‘We prefer a dream over controversy’: Chanel at Paris fashion week

Label’s collection by Virginie Viard is based on Coco Chanel’s designs for 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad

Like the Eiffel Tower above the city, the role of Chanel is to “rise above” Paris fashion even as it is blindsided by catwalk antics such as those of Kanye West, said the brand’s president of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky.

“Fashion week encompasses many of the feelings of the moment,” Pavlovsky said before his show on the last day of Paris fashion week. “But at Chanel we prefer a dream, some serenity, over controversy.”

Chanel designer Virginie Viard based her latest collection on Alain Resnais’s New Wave classic Last Year at Marienbad, which won the Lion d’Or at the Venice film festival in 1961. Coco Chanel Blanket designed the on-screen wardrobe for its star, Delphine Seyrig. The ageless, out-of-time chic of the wardrobe Chanel created for Seyrig, which included a classic Chanel two-piece suit and a black chiffon cocktail dress, was specifically plotted to enhance the complex storytelling of the avant-garde twists in chronology of the film, in which the story unfolds in enigmatic flashbacks.

The Chanel show audience were seated cinema-style in front of a giant screen showing a montage of scenes from the film. Models catwalked in front of the screen, wearing clothes due to go on sale in Chanel boutiques next spring but that could very easily have been on film in 1961. The classic black chiffon cocktail dresses, ladylike polka dots and supple, elongated evening gowns emphasised the timelessness of the Chanel aesthetic. The feather trim of a cream gown worn in the film showed up on several outfits, from party dresses to tweed suits.

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Speaking before the show, Pavlovsky stressed the importance to the brand of Chanel’s continued commitment to bricks and mortar retail over e-commerce. “We have more customers coming into our boutiques, in every location, than ever before,” he said. “Chanel is not about a product, it is about a silhouette and a spirit. The best place to experience the silhouette is in a dressing room. With digital you can see the product, but you can’t see the spirit. The creative energy that you experience in a boutique is the best way for us to quantify the value of Chanel.”

Pavlovsky added that Chanel’s strategy of global price alignment, interpreted by some commentators as a first step toward e-commerce, was “the best way for us to organise ourselves at a time of so many economic tensions. There is much uncertainty – for instance, we look at what is happening in the UK – and we have to make sure we build the right conditions for Chanel to continue to be creative.”

On 6 December, a show in Dakar, Senegal, will be the first Chanel show to be held in Africa. “This was Virginie [Viard]’s initiative,” said Pavlovsky. “When you look at a map, Chanel has been everywhere in the world except for Africa. From day one, Virginie said that this was something important missing from Chanel.” He added that the choice of Dakar reflects the city’s prominence as a focal point for modern African art, as well as its heritage of craftsmanship.

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