Blink and you might miss it. This was the main response to Chanel’s digital couture show, which like the Dior one 24 hours previously, launched simultaneously on two websites, its own and of that of the Chambre Syndicale - Paris's official online fashion platform.
At one minute and 22 seconds, its chief virtue was brevity. Compared with Dior’s efforts – a whimsical narrative featuring a cluster of uncannily well-dressed nymphs and mermaids, directed by Matteo Garrone, a Palme d’Or winning auteur, who also wove in vignettes from the Dior ateliers that showed its dedicated, white-coated seamstresses working on the collection – it seemed woefully undernourished, more like an advertisement, or a speed-date with a procession of outfits that will have taken months to conceive.
What a missed opportunity. For the clothes themselves – those interested could peruse an accompanying lookbook of stills – were lovely enough to keep the most exacting Chanel fan in couture for seasons to come.
A slim sparkling tweed coat with a flared skirt and a sprinkling of silk roses, a midnight blue silk floor length gown with voluminous sleeves and a trail of buttons up its bodice and a silver mesh pinafore-style dress suggested this might be one of Virginie Viard’s strongest efforts since she took the role of Creative Director following Karl Lagerfeld’s death early in 2019.
There were another 27 outfits in the collection, variations on a tweedy and taffeta theme, with silky blooms, ruffles and jewels sprinkled in. Not that you would have known this from watching the “show”.
Chanel’s ateliers, with their separation into le flou (fluid clothes) and le tailleur (tailoring) are at least as impressive as Dior's; its history even longer and more fabled. And its commitment to craft is unrivalled. Over the years it has saved numerous specialists from oblivion, including Ballantyne cashmere in Hawick, Scotland and Lesage lace in Paris. This week it announced it has acquired VIMAR, a tweed specialist – ten of the outfits in this collection were made using VIMAR, including the rose-spattered tweed coats. And yet, there is no explicit reference to any of this in the digital presentation. Perhaps Chanel is afraid of seeming nerdy and boring us.
But any appreciation of couture is rooted in the way it’s made and consumers are increasingly interested in the provenance of their clothes, particularly at this elevated level. Couture fanciers see themselves as connoisseurs. As Dior has demonstrated in its digital film, which in addition to naiads, showed its atelier working on scaled down versions of its collection which will be sent to clients so that they can see the clothes in 3.D, there’s a magical way of sharing a brand’s history and expertise.
Chanel’s physical shows have become the gold-standard in terms of their imaginative, witty sets, and perhaps this soaring success prevents the house from seizing the current opportunity and reaching new audiences. One longed to be pulled into an immersive experience – even just for ten minutes – but was left instead with the sensation of pressing up against a firmly closed window.
Watch the Haute Couture autumn/winter 2020 digital shows here.
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