paris haute couture 2022

At Chanel, Simplicity Sings

Plus: Houses are holding haute-jewelry presentations that have become part of Couture Fashion Week.

(Left to right: Ronald van der Kemp, Chanel, Iris van Herpen.) Photo: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy of Ronald van der Kemp, Chanel, Iris van Herpen
(Left to right: Ronald van der Kemp, Chanel, Iris van Herpen.) Photo: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy of Ronald van der Kemp, Chanel, Iris van Herpen

As a rule, Chanel doesn’t show bags or jewelry at haute couture, and it tries to keep logos to a strict minimum, though one appeared in Virginie Viard’s fall collection on Tuesday — interlocked C’s woven into the tweed of a black-and-gold beige coat. But you barely noticed it. Even Karl Lagerfeld managed to restrain himself, which must have been hard. He generally confined his silliness to ready-to-wear.

Nonetheless, the absence of logos and accessories (apart from a few diamond pieces) was felt keenly this time, maybe because it brought out the effortlessness of Viard’s clothes. Some people will no doubt say that the collection was boring; in March, at the fall ready-to-wear shows, I found her ladylike suits unfathomably dowdy, bourgeois — the total opposite of Coco Chanel’s renegade spirit. But there’s a huge difference between a ready-made jacket and one made by hand in exceptional fabric. It fits on the body lightly. There’s a roundness to it, a natural ease. And in the big, airy space of Chanel’s venue — a riding arena in the Bois de Boulogne — that’s what seduced me about Viard’s couture, its very plainness.

Chanel. Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

It probably helped that many of her models wore their hair loose (unlike last July’s Brunhilde braids), and had on either black western-style boots or T-straps heels. They looked polished yet comfortable, as if they might leave the arena and keep walking. And though there was embroidery in the collection, it seemed more subdued or, anyway, harder to grasp even at close range. For example, there was a superb black tweed coat, and what you can’t tell from images is that it has deep vents in the back, with delicate ostrich plumes blowing out from the lining. In pictures, it just looks like an ordinary black coat. Other embroideries and details, like the sinewy line of the evening dresses, seemed to reference 1930s glamour and Art Deco.

Chanel. Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

But Viard’s tastes are a bit opaque and perhaps, finally, independent. Where Lagerfeld cast a wide eye over history and culture, Viard’s choices seem more personal and in a way less hidebound. She had lately worked with Xavier Veilhan to create labyrinthine sets with a playful vibe and with the composer and musician Sebastien Tellier. Lagerfeld tended to be resolutely fashionable, doing short skirts when it was of the moment. Viand follows her own beat. This time, she showed a lot of straight mid-calf skirts, as did Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, including a lovely suit in wheat-toned tweed with a pale-pink lace shell, and she even threw in a pair of gaucho pants. Chiuri and Viard have something else in common this season. Their collections give off a sense of harmony, not only in the individual styles they showed but also in the unhurried vibe they project. Nowhere was that clearer than in Viard’s evening clothes: the trapeze dresses in floaty layers of white tulle, a classic suit embroidered all over in silver palettes, an ultra-simple pale-pink camisole with a full black silk faille skirt. These styles are youthful aplenty, but she isn’t chasing it.

Other couturiers are facing reality (and the past) in a different way. In the garden of an elegant building on the Left Bank, the Dutch designer Ronald van der Kemp showed 27 utterly unique looks assembled from new materials, discarded exotic skins, upcycled lace, and bits and bobs from previous collections. This collection, which featured a gorgeously shredded and pleated gown in tulle, in colors that suggested a melted roll of fruity Lifesavers, wasn’t as dynamic as last season’s. There were too many fashion-y gestures — big sleeves, twisted head wraps, chopped up or cat-clawed denim — and not enough design substance. Still, Van der Kemp’s cast, when assembled on the steps, outdid the Tenenbaums for weirdness.

Ronald van der Kemp. Photo: Courtesy of Ronald van der Kemp

Iris Van Herpen’s Ovid-inspired dresses were enchanting. Her idea was to supply the audience with headsets that would have linked them to her other theme, the metaverse. But because of a Covid-related issue, that didn’t happen. Van Herpen, who is also Dutch, has long worked between realities, and her couture is like no one else’s. This season, her clothes were again sculptural and painstakingly crafted, in materials like recycled Mylar, raw silk, organza, and a type of banana leaf that made them seem as dazzling as ancient stained glass.

Iris Van Herpen. Photo: Courtesy of Iris van Herpen

A number of houses are holding haute-jewelry presentations, separate from the shows, that have become part of Couture Fashion Week. Two worth mentioning are Chanel’s and Hermès’s, in part because they put such effort into the design of their presentations, to say nothing of the jewelry itself, and in part because both plan to bring their collections to the U.S. this fall (Hermès to New York, Chanel to L.A.). Chanel took over a vast temporary exhibition space, made the interiors pitch-black, and placed its jewels in a circular, illuminated vitrine at eye level. The inspiration for the celestial designs — stars and comets and such, set mostly with diamonds, but also pearls, blue opals, and one gumdrop-size sapphire — was Chanel’s 1932 collection.

Hermès stirred something rare even in fashion — a sense of wonder. First, there was a performance, created by Lina Lapelyte, who in 2019 received the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for her collaborative work Sun and Sea. For Hermès, she had a group of performers (dressed in black) sing in a whisper and then gradually raise the tempo as they also increased their movements on a small stage. At the same time, shadows of the performers appeared against a curtain — a prelude to Pierre Hardy’s “Light and Shadow” collection of jewelry.

Hermès. Photo: Elizaveta Porodina/ Courtesy of Hermès

But the jewelry is remarkable in itself: a necklace with a large square pendant lined with mother-of-pearl and set with colored stones; rings with a crisp, microscopic pavé of diamonds or, say, sapphires and set with single, oblong stones, as though a tiny meteor had landed, and rings whose mechanical parts and stones evoked a lunar eclipse. Yes.

As traditional as Hermès is, its creative minds are in the present, and it’s only logical that its jewelry should be not just special but progressive.

At Chanel, Simplicity Sings