It’s no secret that I’m a bit obsessive in my love of CHANEL, especially the incredible Haute Couture collections the House presents twice a year. And there can be no mistaking that my love for the House and these incredibly special collections only deepens with each season. Entirely created by hand in their in-house ateliers, the pieces that comprise a CHANEL Haute Couture collection are literal works of art. Each stich, pleat, sequin, and bead represent the staggering talents that are nurtured and encouraged by the House of CHANEL.
For the CHANEL Spring-Summer 2020 Haute Couture collection, Virginie Viard was inspired by a place that was at the very core of Gabrielle Chanel’s history and being. As a young girl, Mademoiselle Chanel, along with her sisters, was placed in an orphanage in the ancient Cistercian Abby of Aubazine in Corrèze. The time she spent there proved to be incredibly formative, ultimately shaping her into the young woman who would become Coco Chanel. The Abbey and its grounds would also prove to be inspirational to young Gabrielle. Many of the motifs, symbols and architectural elements would later be woven into everything, from her own signature interlocking “CC” monogram to her collections and creations.
Viard noted during a visit to Aubazine “…The place made me think of the summer, a breeze fragranced with flowers. I wanted floral embroideries like an herbarium, delicate flowers. What interested me in this décor was the paradox between the sophistication of Haute Couture and the simplicity of this place.” This notion of a paradox is at the very core of the CHANEL DNA. The interplay between the masculine and the feminine, the rigour of the suit and the gentle refinement of tweed, and between the House’s core colours of black and white.
With that inspiration in mind, Virginie Viard presented the CHANEL Spring-Summer 2020 Haute Couture collection in a cloister garden brought to life in the Grand Palais. Not only was Viard inspired by the grounds of the Abby and the uniforms of the sisters and boarding pupils alike, but also by the architectural elements found within the grounds of Aubazine. The intricate stained-glass windows of Aubazine are referenced in both a dress and suit, as these spectacular pieces are entirely embroidered with matte pastel sequins. Dresses done in two-tone wool or tweed, and featuring flat pleats, braided belts, and Bertha collars oe collars in cotton piqué are embellished with delicate embroidery echoing the paving stones of the Abby and modeled on the schoolgirls’ daily attire.
The lines of the collection are elegant in their seeming austerity, with long coats and column style dresses done in the House’s iconic tweed, as well as crepe adorned with ecru floral guipure lace for a dress striking in its simplicity. However, the pieces move toward a romantic fluidity as the collection progresses. Done in a palette of signature CHANEL colors, they are the perfect feminine foil with their lightness against the staid pieces that opened the show. Gowns of taffeta, crêpe, silk, lace, tulle, and chiffon seemed to float down the runway and featured refined design elements that elevated them to the sublime.
Referencing the garden at Aubazine, floral motifs and flowers can be found throughout the collection. From floral-embellished lace, embroidered bouquets, and handmade and placed multicolor pansies, flowers adorn many a piece in the CHANEL Spring-Summer 2020 Haute Couture collection. As for the wedding dress, the traditional closing piece in an Haute Couture collection, it was shown in a fine crêpe georgette. With a dramatic tulle Peter Pan collar, the short dress is paired with a veil embroidered with branches of wisteria.
To learn more about the symbols and totems that Coco Chanel incorporated into her life and designs, you can check out my article about the Mademoiselle Privé exhibit I had the opportunity to tour when it was at the Saatchi Gallery in London HERE.