The haute couture showcase of Chanel revisited its Coco's childhood Advertisement

Chanel’s haute couture showcase revisited its founder’s childhood at Aubazine

The show was filled with nostalgia and poetry

By Supriya Dravid  March 15th, 2020

The courtyard of childhood is oftentimes a determinant of love and longing. It was this memory that Chanel’s artistic director Virginie Viard played upon as a metaphor for the maison’s haute couture show. On a sunny January day in Paris, the Grand Palais was transformed into the cloister garden of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s days at the convent of Aubazine in Corrèze.

Chanel Chanel

It also served as a poignant reminder of young Gabrielle’s story. After the death of her mother, when Coco was just 11, she and her sisters were sent by their father to the orphanage of the ancient Cistercian Abbey in the remote part of south-western France. It was here that Gabrielle’s formative years informed her aesthetic: the bannister of the stairwell, the cobblestone corridors, the abbey’s coat-of-arms (composed of the moon, the sun and the stars) and the stained glass windows rich with abstract motifs that inspired the interlacing of her own monogram.

Chanel Chanel

To pay homage to the very space that punctuated the maison’s ethos, Virginie, who is slowly but surely coming out of the shadows of Karl Lagerfeld, visited Corrèze last September, and instantly fell for the cloister’s uncultivated garden. “The place made me think of the summer, a breeze fragranced with flowers. I wanted floral embroideries like a herbarium, delicate flowers. What interested me in this décor was the paradox between the sophistication of haute couture and the simplicity of this place,” she says.

Virginie recreated the setting imaginatively. Show attendees were greeted with linen sheets hung on washing lines—a stark reminder of Gabrielle’s monastic past. It translated onto the clothes as well. “I also liked the idea of the boarder, of the schoolgirl,” says Virginie. The Claudine collars were inspired by the rigour of the black and white habits, while models traipsed in old fashioned schoolgirl lace-up shoes with built-in white ankle socks or lace-up booties worn with white tights.

It was a delightful paradox of structured dresses—all in tulle with layers of black and white, occasionally offering glimpses of embroidered flowers. The pastel sequinned scrolls on some suits were reminiscent of the motifs seen on the stained glass windows. A tweed skirt was paired with a cropped jacket emblazoned with tiny pieces of rhodoid, hand-painted like shards of a stained-glass windows and a cape embroidered with motifs inspired by the paving stones at the abbey.

As the golden light seeped into the Grand Palais, you could almost sense the otherworldly presence of Coco, approving the beauty of it all.