By Thomas Adamson
Huge spinning wheels, “floating” wooden blocks and suspended geometric shapes hovered over a surreal mini golf course Tuesday at Chanel’s remarkable couture show.
Even Pharrell Williams, who is no stranger to elaborate sets, had to take a moment to take stock, before posing beside a white, three-meter (yard) tire.
This sublime, avant-garde decor was the work of Xavier Veilhan and marked the first time in its history that Chanel has entrusted a contemporary artist for staging.
The equestrian photos handed out to guests as they filtered in were a hint of what was to come. But no one quite expected Charlotte Casiraghi, the daughter of Caroline of Monaco and the granddaughter of Princess Grace Kelly, to appear out of nowhere atop an actual racing horse.
Here are some highlights of the second day of spring summer 2022 couture shows in Paris.
CHANEL SEES PARED DOWN SPRING AESTHETIC
The beautiful beast and its VIP rider, in a black Chanel tweed sequined jacket of course, began the show to a symphony of gasps and clopping hooves around the Grand Palais Ephemere’s auditorium as celebrity guests snapped pictures.
The horse seemed to enjoy its 15 minutes of fame, trotting by with ease, snaking in and out of the 1920s and 30s constructivist installations and by sand and imitation grass, before breaking out into a canter around the set.
Virginie Viard, Chanel's designer, said the art backdrop was not just decor, but the collection’s creative starting block.
“These geometric shapes made me want contrasts, a great lightness and a lot of freshness: ethereal dresses that float as if suspended,” she said.
Thus Chanel produced a relatively pared down aesthetic for spring with matching tweeds, minimalist touches, clean curved peplums and lots of white. A split leg on heavy three-quarter length skirts was this season’s big theme, creating a silhouette with lots of swag as the models walked.
A pink tweed jacket with white stripes possessed beautiful loose proportions, which perfectly captured the spirit of pared down femininity. It was the best piece in the show. Yet the 47-look collection at times seemed to fall victim to its own restraint, seeming to lack vibrancy.
ALEXIS MABILLE’S FLOWERS AND INSECTS
A single butterfly earring. That was the most delicate of leitmotifs for the lauded French designer, who took the shapes and textures of butterfly wings and flower petals to produce an organic-infused display.
Silhouettes were truncated or unfurled at the top and bottom in swooshes of silk that resembled an opening flower. Or was it a butterfly emerging from the cocoon?
Either way, an organic feel pervaded the 26 couture designs.
A white silk train billowed majestically out from the bottom of a sheer bustier corset that sported embroidered lines resembling veins. Elsewhere, pleated silk hung beautifully down from a pink halter neck gown, evoking the delicate crinkling in wings.
A black lace hood hung over one model’s head as if she were in mourning. She may even have been a Black Widow spider.
ALEXANDRE VAUTHIER'S GLAM
The French couturier known for his unapologetic glamour was at it again this season, producing a collection that oozed with shimmer, sequins, feather flourishes and even a flash of leopard.
The mood felt very late-80's. A white broad-shouldered tuxedo above an exposed chest led to a dazzling silver gown that covered the model in sequins from head to foot.
This season, Alexandre Vauthier also brought out the sensuality.
A loose Chinese white satin gown’s fabric rippled across the model’s body as if blown by the breeze -- an effect carefully mirrored by her windswept tousled hair.
The 50-year-old designer has expressed his desire to create fashions that celebrate life and going out — especially amid the constraints of persistent lockdowns. At this show, fashions were disco-ready.
VAN DER KEMP IS SUSTAINABLE
It’s no secret that Ronald van der Kemp, the self-proclaimed “first sustainable couture label,” wants to spearhead a revolution.
The Dutch designer wants to create couture out of unwanted materials to shake up fashion’s wasteful ecosystem.
It’s a noble cause and -- judging by the fact his wares are being worn by the likes of Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry -- a successful one, too.
On Tuesday, van der Kemp proved again that you don’t have to be cruel to be beautiful in a series of vibrant couture looks made from upcycled materials -- although you might be forgiven for not guessing they were.
A mini dress in Chinese white was beautifully constructed with heaped bands of fabric, long train and impenetrable bodice. Elsewhere, peaked curved shoulders on a silken 1940s elderberry cut a timeless style with a chic, sheer pencil skirt.