Chanel Fall 2019 Couture

For her debut haute couture outing chez Chanel, Virginie Viard set her collection in a library inspired by the one in Gabrielle Chanel’s daytime apartment on the rue Cambon (the legendary designer slept at the Ritz next door), with its chic buff- and conker-colored bindings, and by Galignani, the storied bookstore on the rue de Rivoli that numbered bibliophile Karl Lagerfeld among its foremost clients. The models moved at a more leisurely pace than usual through this contemplative environment to a soundtrack created by music maestro Michel Gaubert that included Portishead’s “Glory Box” with its lyric “I just want to be a woman.” Although Gaubert insisted the music had been chosen for the “more casual” feel of the presentation after Lagerfeld’s fast-moving, high-octane pyrotechnics—and the introspection of the library environment—it seemed an apt complement to this woman-friendly collection.

Self-effacing as ever, Viard didn’t appear to take her bow after the show; instead she was backstage being congratulated by her teary-eyed premiers d’ateliers and the great fournisseurs of Paris—the embroiderers, feather artists, button and ribbon makers, et al.—who have collaborated with her for the three decades that she worked alongside Lagerfeld as his studio coordinator at Chloé and subsequently Chanel. The savoir faire that Viard developed over that time with these wizards of technique and craft was on display in this quiet collection, which revisited the Chanel tropes developed by both Mademoiselle herself and subsequently by Lagerfeld, including skinny coatdresses to the ankle that flashed luxe silk satin linings as the models moved; full-skirt velvet gowns cut to romantic ballet length or grazing the floor about flat shoes; and tiered chiffon Jazz Age dresses with stitched pleats released into fluttering fullness. In place of Lagerfeld’s hard geometry, Viard added her softer touch in the rounded volumes of a magenta bomber jacket worn over a minidress with a cool Parisienne, retro-’80s vibe; in the surprise of tweed dungarees; and in shapely jackets (some with gentle leg-of-mutton sleeves) with face-flattering ivory satin collars or organza ruffs, worn over wide oxford bags of the type Chanel herself carried in the 1930s.

Viard’s skill in harnessing the genius of the flou and tailoring ateliers and suppliers was revealed in touches such as a diaphanous T-shirt embellished with white plumes bearing written poems; a bolero jacket formed from clustered feather “roses”; textiles that looked like tweed but on closer inspection proved to be solid embroideries; and the liquid flow of acres of pale mauve chiffon made into a strapless evening dress that rippled like the waters of a stream in movement. It was a collection that almost felt anti-fashion but was instead an ode to flattering elegance that should keep the pampered Chanel couture clients happy.