If Paris is burning, nobody told the guests at Chanel’s haute couture show. They gathered on the Seine to watch models stroll over pink painted cobblestones against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower — a picture postcard version of the French capital, which has been hit by protests triggered by the police killing of a teenager.
While the riots have affected mostly low-income suburbs, the revolt spilled over into central Paris last week with demonstrators looting a handful of stores, prompting several brands to cancel planned events. Paris Couture Week, which kicked off on Monday, has unfolded without a hitch so far, but the disconnect between runway and reality has never felt more stark.
It was just as well that creative director Virginie Viard didn’t go overboard with the ballgowns. “Since we’re doing it outside, I wanted it to feel simple but elegant,” she said during a preview.
The collection celebrated the allure of the Parisienne, from cooler-than-thou brand ambassador Caroline de Maigret, who opened the show in a sweeping navy tweed coat, to longtime friend of the house Vanessa Paradis, who starred in teaser images and sat in the front row.
As the coauthor of the bestselling “How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are,” de Maigret has — literally — written the book on French style and travels the world moderating “Style Talks” for Chanel. The rest of the models mirrored her nonchalant gait, pairing their outfits with street-friendly two-tone mary janes.
One of them, dressed in a red military-style tweed jacket and striped cigarette pants, held a black retriever on a leash, while others carried baskets filled with flowers. (These looked slightly implausible, especially when paired with an off-the-shoulder evening gown covered in black velvet blooms.)
As usual, Viard oscillated between classic and boho inspirations. In the former camp were handsome tweed coats and jackets in black or asphalt gray, some speckled with tiny dots or set off with graphic white braids. In the latter, ‘70s-inspired blouses and dresses in jarring mash-ups of floral and lace motifs.
She found a happy medium with dresses and jackets with lush floral embroideries inspired by still lifes. Standouts included an Empire line dress overlaid with a sheer layer of black tulle, and a gilet dotted with tiny red berries.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS, said it was important to go ahead with the show, even if the context is not ideal.
“These unfortunate events, sadly, do not give the best image of Paris. Nonetheless, Paris has always been a magical city that attracts tourists from all over the world for its architecture,” he said. “When fashion and couture houses can take over these magical locations and offer a fresh perspective, I think it’s important.”
He argued the made-to-measure creations don’t exist in a bubble, instead supporting a whole ecosystem of specialized workshops, many of them grouped under Chanel’s 19M division.
“I’m thinking of all these studios, workshops and suppliers who’ve been working hard for weeks to try to present the very best in fashion, and that’s not a question of rich or poor. It’s about the labor and the artistic expression it represents,” he said. “Even in a difficult context, it’s a little bit of beauty — but it’s not show-off.”
To be sure, the couture pendulum is swinging toward quiet luxury, as if designers — and their clients — could sense the brewing unrest. These days, the one percent are treading as lightly as these fantasy Parisiennes.