Like so many of its forerunners, the story of the spring/summer 2023 Chanel Haute Couture collection begins at 31 rue Cambon, Paris—Coco Chanel’s last abode. The apartment on the third floor remains as she left it when she died in 1971: a gilded garden scattered with opulent reliefs and statuary of wildlife. There is the wry camel on a side-table, bronze deer clustered near the brazier and poignant effigies of lions (Chanel was a Leo). It was here, among the entrancing menagerie, that Virginie Viard conferred with set designer Xavier Veilhan and the season’s bestiary themed collection was born.
“The whole embroidery universe of the collection is turned towards the animal world,” says Viard. All down the middle of a dreamy column dress, hand-stitched rabbits graze then give way to a flouncy skirt of profuse taffeta. A print of sequinned dogs pattern a military style dress, caught mid-gambol; in movement their leaps acquire life. The bridal look of the finale is adorned with textured swallows. And because a garden cannot do without flowers, the house’s signature camellias are in full bloom, enfolding a fitted jumpsuit here, sewn as appliqués on a skirt there.
But the collection is far from twee; an observer would have to go quite close to recognise the animal figures. More to the point, its edenic motifs are offset by structured silhouettes derived from the uniform of the military parade. Shapes are disciplined, the shoulders straight and strong. Hemlines are simplified, full but never voluminous.
The suit is a convincing anchor. At the show, models poured out of trap doors in large animal structures clad in all sorts of suits; mini-skirt suits, knee-length skirt suits, short suits and tuxedo-breasted dresses all made appearances. Of the Trojan horse-like trick, Viard says: “I like it when the marvellous bursts forth and the course of events is interrupted.” It’s a sentiment that applies equally to the collection. From a distance, its classic sensibility is the model of perfect decorum. Only a closer look yields the sudden surprise of the animals, a marvel reserved for the wearer and her intimates.
In keeping with the carnivalesque spirit of the collection, models wore proud top hats, with many a neck encircled by zippy bow ties, a styling point repeated in the Vogue Singapore shoot for the collection. The shoot leaned into the spectacle, reimagining the military ceremony as a lavish circus, with the Chanel woman as sophisticate and ringmaster. In a striking visual reference to intimacy, the models were made up like twins. Together, they played with juggling balls, tightropes and large hoops, embodying—as Viard put it—the “poetry of the majorettes.”
Photographer Zantz Han
Styling Jasmine Ashvinkumar
Hair Yuhi Kim
Make-up Clarence Lee
Set design Denise Chong
Photographer’s assistants Sin Yean and Jaron Tay
Stylist’s assistant Carmen Sin
Set designer’s assistant Chan Jian Hong
Models Rui/Mannequin and Sua/Model Directors
Pre-order your copy of the May/June ‘Guardian’ issue of Vogue Singapore online now or pick it up on newsstands from 18 May 2023.