It’s rare that the make-up is the biggest talking point of a show. Particularly when Charlotte Casiraghi, granddaughter of Grace Kelly, has opened it. And done so by cantering round the catwalk on her beautiful brown bay thoroughbred, Cousco, wearing a sequined black tweed jacket.
But Chanel landed a punch with several models sporting carefully painted-on black eyes along with their make-up and elaborate couture outfits. A statement against victim blaming, surely, rather than a suggestion that women should wear marks of violence with pride. It certainly jolted. But then, it was meant to.
Couture is the pinnacle of the art of fashion, and each garment is made to measure for the customer in a laborious process that can take weeks and drain even the fattest bank accounts. But Virginie Viard has specialised in delivering emotional shocks along with the tweed and ruffles since she took over from her late mentor, Karl Lagerfeld, as the creative director of Chanel. She’s been with the Paris fashion giant since 1987 so her grasp of the house’s design codes is second nature, meaning that she can innovate without frightening the horses.
Coco Chanel herself was a keen rider - two of her lovers were polo players - and her classic quilted bags borrow from the padding on saddle cloths. So there was an appropriately centaur-ish air to one of the outfits - sleek jacket with pearl trim above, massive shaggy brown trousers below.
Elsewhere it was a luscious run-down of the Maison’s greatest hits - two-tone black and white 1920s-style shoes; neat pink tweed mini-dresses; boxy skirt suits; and nautical stripes. There was novelty in the shape of a boudoir-appropriate flounced black and white gown. It was certainly more richly romantic than the fierce Mlle Chanel might have liked. There was even a 'plus sized' (though I prefer the term ‘normal’) woman on the catwalk - Jill Kortleve - which is indeed a rare sight at a couture show.
All those post-covid brides in want of a dress are well catered for here - this couture season is obviously the hot ticket for oligarch wedding shopping. Traditionally a couture show closes with a Cinderella moment as ‘the bride’ emerges as the last look. This time there were no fewer than five alternative dream dresses on offer. There’s no need to pick and choose, though: it’s now the habit at dynastic weddings for the bride - indeed the whole wedding party - to change outfits multiple times. Though judging by the evidence a runaway bride might be better off galloping out of town on Cousco.
No fashion show these days is complete without an artistic collaboration, and Viard teamed up with a French sculptor, Xavier Veilhan, to create a clean, pared-back set, with a catwalk covered in sand to make Viard’s flounces, fringes, macramé, bright lace, iridescent tweeds - and bruises - stand out.