The strangest ever season of catwalk shows ended in Paris with Chanel and Louis Vuitton, displaying an industry divided between nostalgia for the razzmatazz of the old normal and a futuristic vision of what fashion could be.
The 14-metre white capital letters of the Hollywood sign that crown the Santa Monica Mountains do not just designate a place name. Since they were erected in the roaring 20s, they have stood for a glamorous fantasy world to which anyone can buy entry, with a cinema ticket. For the Chanel show a venue reinvented in seasons past as a spaceship or a supermarket or an ocean liner was dressed simply with the brand name spelt out as if on the Hollywood Hills.
“The world of Chanel evokes so many images, a whole unconscious that’s linked to cinema”, said designer Virginie Viard. Teasers for the show included clips from French New Wave classics Breathless and La Piscine, and actors Marion Cotillard and Vanessa Paradis were among the audience of 500 – a fraction of the usual guest list – who attended the show in person.
The mood was low key, with an all-white set and the audience spaced apart on utilitarian stools. The clothes were a slick remake of Chanel’s greatest hits – not from the Coco era of pared-back elegance but from the gleeful Warholia of Karl Lagerfeld’s late 20th-century pomp, in all its technicolour excess.
A pearl-trimmed cardigan in bubblegum pink became a cocktail dress. The house double-C logo was the crown on a tiara, a quilted chain bag became a gold pendant necklace, and the number 5 the bullseye number on a T-shirt. Chanel, which made an operating profit of $3.5bn US dollars in 2019, would like nothing better than to reset the industry dial as it was pre-pandemic, and this was a collection to tug at the heartstrings – and purse strings – of those sharing their nostalgia.
Louis Vuitton did lights, camera, action too, but of a more high-tech kind. Although 400 people were present in Paris, the show was staged with those watching at home in mind. Front row guests unable to attend were represented by individual cameras with a 360-degree swivel controlled through their phones, for the in-seat experience of being able to people-watch and rubber-neck during the show. Trapeze artists, magicians and images of Nick Cave in the Wim Wenders classic Wings of Desire were projected onto green screens for a global audience watching the livestream.
The venue represented a serious flexing of LVMH muscle as a first viewing for La Samaritaine, the iconic Parisian store the luxury house has extensively renovated ahead of a grand reopening next year. With its ornate ironwork and interlinking balconies now painted a gleaming sci-fi silver, the building looked like a Millennium Falcon – sent to rescue fashion, perhaps.
Designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s futuristic aesthetic is sometimes literal (a metallic jumpsuit), sometimes lightly done (black leather trousers and a white ribbed vest) and sometimes slightly baffling (a sweatshirt with a swathe of bright satin, like an abstraction of a crumpled anorak hood, across the shoulders), but in an industry searching for a new identity, it made perfect sense.