Virginie Viard Works Out the Kinks in Her Vision for Chanel at Spring 2021 Haute Couture

It was a welcome return to form for the French house.
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It cannot be an easy task to follow a designer as legendary as Karl Lagerfeld (even if sometimes the legends were of his own making), let alone take over one of the biggest, if not the most iconic, fashion brands in the world. Of course, that's exactly what Virginie Viard was tasked with at Chanel following Lagerfeld's passing, sometimes successfully and sometimes...well, less so.

The Chanel Spring 2021 Haute Couture collection belongs in the former category. Similar to the Métiers d'Art collection in December, the runway was unveiled in front of a select few brand ambassadors, like Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Vanessa Paradis and her daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, all spread out safely across the set of floral arches and wooden chairs. Models then flooded the petal-scattered runway, splitting to take individual turns of their own before then taking up chairs in the audience set with  — almost as though they themselves were just well-dressed Chanel clients. 

"I knew we couldn't organize a big show, that we would have to invent something else, so I came up with the idea of a small cortege that would come down the stairs of the Grand Palais and pass beneath arches of flowers. Like a family celebration, a wedding," Viard wrote in the show notes. "I love big family reunions, when the generations all come together. It's so warm. There's this spirit at Chanel today. Because Chanel is also like a family."

The collection is packed with that '80s-tinged punch Viard has been playing with for several seasons now, but it seems like she may finally be working out the kinks. "I'm always thinking about what women would like to have in their wardrobe today," she said. And, for once, many of those details — big, ruffled petticoat skirts and minidresses with overflowing tulle bustles — feel like something modern women would want to wear. 

The proportions of the wide-legged pants or oversized blouses were tinkered out of sloppy territory, and the presence of downright pretty dresses was a welcome one. It would be as easy to imagine one of those celebrity ambassadors in the sexy tailored vests as it would a couture client layering one over a sharp button down for work. Truly impressive was the final bridal look: Brought out on a horse, the long-sleeved gown featured buttons down the entire front, its long, ultra-feminine train balanced with statement shoulders and big cuffs.

The flip side of feeling the weight of that responsibility previously mentioned is having the freedom and financial backing to remake the brand in a more modern image, all the way down to casting. What would be truly refreshing to see would be Viard taking advantage of that aspect, too.

Lagerfeld notoriously — and somewhat regularly — ran into trouble for shooting off his mouth about women's bodies, and rarely bothered with making his casting more diverse, which alienated many both within the industry and outside of it. At Fendi, where Lagerfeld also once reigned supreme, Silvia Venturini Fendi put Paloma Elsesser, Jill Kortleve (who also makes a repeat appearance at Chanel here) and Ashley Graham in recent shows to much acclaim. Not only is Chanel leaving this kind of positive press and attention (and money!) on the table, it risks being left behind as other competitor fashion brands embrace a more forward-thinking way of casting runway shows and ad campaigns. After all, if Chanel wishes its clients to consider themselves a part of the family, it might do well to consider that not all its clientele look like the mostly-white, almost exclusively-thin models and ambassadors seen in its shows.

See the complete Chanel Spring 2021 Haute Couture collection in the gallery below:

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