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Chanel Jumps on the Gen-Z Bandwagon

The Cruise 2021 collection mixes Virginie Viard's now-signature silhouettes with a '90s nostalgia.

If you've perused TikTok, or any of the clothing retailers teens are known to frequent — think Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle — you'll know that Gen Z is downright obsessed with all things '90s and early aughts. If a millennial wore it in high school, they want a version of it, be it vintage or new: '90s jeans, '90s tank tops, '90s babydoll dresses, even '90s butterfly clips. If you can slap that late-20th century number on the name, they want it.

With the Chanel Cruise 2021 collection, Virginie Viard is joining the hoards of designers making a play for that crucial shopping demographic. Plenty of the looks that walked the Carrières de Lumières-set runway gave me flashbacks to my own teen years: fringe-embellished mini skirts paired with graphic tees, spaghetti-strap dresses and tanks layered over white tees, cropped halter-neck tops layered over long-sleeved tees. There are also pop-punk touches worthy of the Warped Tour, like fishnet stockings, layered chokers, double-C lip rings and a garter belt bag which serves as a rather clever callback to the infamous ankle bracelet bag Karl Lagerfeld designed, reportedly inspired by Lindsay Lohan's alcohol monitoring anklet

Otherwise, the collection is packed with Viard's now-signature silhouettes, always slightly oversized or baggy, and contrasts of tweed with lighter chiffon textures. (Thankfully, there were very few of the neon-brights Viard has favored in previous collections; Cruise 2021 is kept largely to a black-and-white palette.) This being a resort collection, there are plenty of breezy caftans to cover up on some luxurious beach, and a suite of white pieces featuring some truly lovely floral embroidery.

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The collection suffers from having a few too many ideas that don't blend together: What to make of the lace and open-knit black capes at the end, for example? Or the more buttoned-up black-and-white pieces at the beginning? Viard is at her best when she has one or two streamlined concepts to follow instead of trying to be everything to everybody. 

And while there may be some in the Gen-Z set who will want a Chanel take on the '90s trend — minus the deep side parts, naturally — these designs feel forced. It's not that Chanel can't do youthful; Lagerfeld himself was notoriously youth-obsessed. But where Viard falls short of her peers who are also chasing the TikTok crowd in the luxury space, like Hedi Slimane at Celine, is that she appears to be designing to appeal to them, rather than cleverly styling good designs in a way that seems more natural.

Ultimately, after several seasons, I don't feel like I have a good grasp on what Viard's vision for Chanel is, though maybe that doesn't matter much: Chanel's President of fashion Bruno Pavlovsky insists that the ready-to-wear is selling

See the complete Chanel Cruise 2021 collection in the gallery below:

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