Considering all the crazy Chanel sets — an ocean liner, an airplane, an alpine village — what’s so strange about a button as big as a satellite dish? Well, nothing. It evokes the essential in fashion, like the giant pair of scissors gleaming in the darkened entrance to the show on Tuesday in a round, beige-carpeted room. Hoisted high above the center was the button. Just before the models came out, led by the actress Margaret Qualley, in a white wool suit with a frilly organdy collar, the button descended, thus closing off the dead space above the women and the clothes, and sharpening the focus on them.
In the five years since Virginie Viard took over as artistic director of Chanel, following the death of her boss and mentor, Karl Lagerfeld, she has been trying to prove that she’s a levelheaded person who likes the work and, on the whole, takes less pleasure than Lagerfeld did in the fashion jokes and fanfare. She’s the button to his baton.
And she has succeeded, given Chanel’s steady revenue gains and collections, along with marketing, aimed at a younger and wider global audience, without completely leaving older customers in the dust. You have to do that to an extent — leave them behind. Lagerfeld did that when he took over — to the sound of grumbles and whines. (No one dropped the ax on the past better than Tom Ford at Gucci.) And when it works, no one remembers the old glamour babes anyway because fashion is nothing if not opportunistic.
My problem with Viard is that her sense of direction — her taste, her judgment — always feels tentative. It’s not that she simply avoids taking risks. It is that she seems content not to. And that’s a strange kind of Tom Tiddler’s ground for a historically innovative house like Chanel. And despite her youthful skewing of styles, she offers a maddeningly narrow and shallow vision of modern women and femininity. It tends to be girlish, sweet, rich, and pretty with a slight tomboy glaze. You rarely see an unorthodox-looking person in her cast, though Chanel herself kept the most unorthodox company; and in Viard’s spring haute couture show, there was almost no body diversity either. These aspects matter today.
Viard’s theme this season was ballet, though it took a moment to come across. Attached to many skirts and coats — to Qualley’s mini — was a drifty layer of white, black, or beige chiffon, meant to evoke a ballerina’s minimalist costume. To drive home the point, Viard had the models wear pearly white tights and a few wore matching long-sleeved leotards. For me, the shiny white tights and leotards were annoying and klutzy, especially when Viard layered a stone-embellished, bright pink satin suit with a short jacket over a set, creating a chopped-up effect. Come to think of it, acrobats wear tights, too.
Of course, the beauty of haute couture is that the client can change anything. Those extraneous bits of chiffon? Get out the big scissors. In a way, Viard did herself no favors with the styling of this show. The tights, the same conventional black sandals, wore with every outfit. Nearly lost in the expanse of the room and the ballet gimmicks were some extraordinary pieces that properly conveyed the modern lightness that Viard sought. I spotted most of these details later in images, and they are surely even more dazzling in person.
They include an embroidery of interlocking violets, in smudgy pink tones on white lace, for a coat with a caped collar; a fragile, hand-pleated blouse in shell-pink chiffon flecked with tiny silver beads; and a stunning evening dress in white chiffon, with a soft bubble skirt, full sleeves, and an embroidered bodice in a blur of blue, black, and silver-green petals. They might have been based on irises.
And nearly hidden in the middle of all that surreal beauty were gorgeous buttons, perhaps in glass. That could be one reason that Viard largely skipped the jewelry this season. She incorporated the accessories in many of the clothes.
Giorgio Armani sent out 92 looks on Tuesday night in his Privé collection, each more or less unique and designed around a play theme. Armani is 89. That’s a good endorsement for aging.
And play he did. Armani poured on the luminous color, shine, and fancy fabrics. I can’t remember the last time I saw so much lace on a runway. Since he was working under a big umbrella theme, it would be hard to identify the motor in the collection. Probably, it was the link between Western styles and Eastern ones, like kimono-inspired dresses and bird motifs for embroidery. Equally strong, though, were one or two modern, minimalist gowns that looked sculpted on the body. And Armani, who does navy blue like no one else (and, as well, the combination of black, navy, and gray), finished up with a quartet of looks in that signature mood, under giant platter hats.
If there was a fault with the show, it was some of the corny, jumped-up-sounding music — like something you’d imagine hearing in a movie scene of a loud wedding reception — and the fact that there was not a smidge of body diversity in the cast.