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Virginie Viard Gives Chanel the Ol' Giddy Up for Spring 2022 Haute Couture

Get it? Because there was a horse on the runway?

It's true that, since she took the helm of Chanel in 2019, I have generally found Virginie Viard's work to be... let's say, "uneven." For every haute couture high, there's a ready-to-wear low; for every sublime Métiers d'Art piece of handiwork, there's a bafflingly disjointed commercial offering

But ultimately, I want Viard to be a success — which, according to Chanel President Bruno Pavlosky, she is (at least at retail). It's refreshing to see a woman in charge of one of fashion's biggest luxury brands, and she does have an understanding of what's actually wearable for women, even if occasionally those ideas get muddled. So it's a real treat to see a runway from Viard which shows off the kinds of designs she does best, as is the case for Spring 2022 Haute Couture.


House ambassador Charlotte Casiraghi opened the show on horseback, a request from artist Xavier Veilhan, who handled the set design. "His references to constructivism remind me of those of Karl Lagerfeld; I like this similarity of spirit between us, now and across time," Viard said in a release. "In addition to creating the show décor with its references to the avant-gardes of the 1920s and 1930s, Xavier wanted to work with Charlotte Casiraghi. His artistic universe is full of horses and Charlotte is a skilled rider."

Veilhan's set design made Viard feel "very free" and inspired her own work, the designer said: "These geometric shapes made me want contrasts, a great lightness and a lot of freshness: ethereal dresses that float as if suspended. Lots of flounces, fringes, macramé, bright lace, iridescent tweeds, colorful jeweled buttons."

In general, Viard seems to do her best work in the couture collections, in which she attempts the fewest thematic tricks. Here, there's streamlined tweed suiting, which actually works well with the kind of loose, wide-legged pant Viard prefers, thanks to jackets with slightly nipped-in waists. Her full-length jackets continue to be a dream of elegant proportions, and they work equally well when cropped up into a minidress format. Most of the eveningwear is a win (with the exception of a few midriff-baring pieces in a sheer black chiffon); the balance of formless to flattering has been recalibrated, best shown in a black and green lace dress, a sequined slipdress style with feathers at the bodice and a white silk dress with a jeweled halter neck. 

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Viard's weak spot continues to be in accessories: Though not a huge component of haute couture, the shoes being highlighted this season — "two-tone Mary-Janes with heels inspired by the 1920s revisited via the 1980s" — feel incongruous and clunky. (I should say here, too, that I'm particularly baffled by the choice to have a handful of models sporting a ring of eye shadow that, at first glance, definitely appear to be black eyes; intentional or otherwise, it was distracting and frankly a little disturbing.)

While Chanel the brand is damn near infallible, rumblings on social media suggest that consumers may have their limits when it comes to its value propositions. There was the now-infamous Holiday 2021 advent calendar mishap, which went viral on TikTok; and eyebrows have been raised at the level of price increases on Chanel's classic styles (some have been hiked up as much as 60% since Nov. 2019), combined with the additional restrictions placed on purchasing capabilities. (Chanel is moving towards Hermès-like controls on individual buying limits.) Customers are questioning whether they're getting the sort of quality which might justify the otherwise eye-watering price tags.

None of that, of course, is in Viard's control, but she doesn't work in a vacuum. The luxury landscape in general has become incredibly challenging, and recent pushback indicates that not even a brand like Chanel can rest on its name alone. It's a critical moment for every label, Chanel included. If she can continue to refine her preferred silhouettes and hone her vision — and, perhaps, consider making some changes in the styling and accessories departments for ready-to-wear — Viard's designs could play a vital role in taking the house where it wants to go. (No pressure.)

See the complete Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2022 collection in the gallery below:

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