Chanel haute couture show takes viewers on journey through luxurious French wardrobe

The collection is at once chic and wearable

Powered by automated translation

I am sitting on the banks of the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background as Virginie Viard delivers her vision of Parisian chic for Chanel's autumn/winter 2023 haute couture collection.

The river has become something of a hotspot for hosting fashion and art shows, a reputation sealed by Chanel's revealing its exquisite haute couture on the storied banks.

Could this all be part of an orchestrated narrative ahead of Paris hosting the Olympic Games next summer? It certainly seems so.

Given that the world’s eyes will be on Paris next year, it feels entirely natural that for this couture offering – the highest iteration fashion can offer – Viard chooses to examine that fleeting je ne sais quoi of Frenchness: how to be a Parisian.

Lauded for her impeccable style and taste, the woman of Paris has long been regarded as the ultimate in chic. So, watching a show by Chanel, the house founded by the very woman – Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel – who helped embodies this mystique feels like coming full circle.

Watching too is Vanessa Paradis – returned once more to the Chanel spotlight – Kendrick Lamar, Lupita Nyong'o and Charlotte Casiraghi.

Walking past a few repurposed bouquinistes, Paris bookstalls now filled with postcards and sketches of friends of the house, model Caroline de Maigret opens the show.

A long-time Chanel ambassador known for her languid cool, de Maigret wears a full-length, double-breasted coat in dark blue navy, and shows precisely why the crowd has been advised to don flat shoes as she stumbles slightly on the pink-painted cobbles.

The 48 looks that follow take a very particular journey through the different facets of a French woman's wardrobe; a masterclass in grown-up nonchalance, if you will.

Filled with a lightness that will speak to the modern woman, this is not about heavy formality – save for a couple of weighty long skirts – but rather about clothes to be worn with ease and imbued with an unhurried effortless.

There is a parade of practical tweed looks, which come out as trouser suits, short coats and skirts, with the famous boucle coast scattered with loose sequins. From a sleeveless, fringed silk tank top with tweed patch pockets, to a waisted jacket and trousers, finished with a flurry of dip-dyed silk at the neck, cuff and ankle, Viard orbits around a notion that while couture offers unmatched luxury, it must remain wearable to be relevant.

Yet, such is the skill of haute couture that several looks that appear to be woven from tweed are in fact made from embroidered sequins, such as an iridescent jacket sculpted into the waist and a sharp-shouldered fitted jacket in a ghostly Prince of Wales check.

A strappy lace dress, meanwhile, turns out to be entirely embroidered and, worn with an overly long scarf, carries an air of Karl Lagerfeld's boho years. Also keeping to this mood is a golden tweed skirt with a breezy, bishop-sleeved top in shades of apricot and saffron.

As the models sweep past on the quay, as if on cue, a tourist boat drifts along the river, filled with waving visitors. And with embroidery this good, it's a shame they're so far away.

Swirls of blue on a cropped top (worn with a boucle skirt with shredded hem) and a scooped neck top is worn with high-waisted belted trousers.

One dress, which comes with a slip of silk showing at the bottom, is made up of three layers of embroidered sequin flowers. After seeing a trio of initial samples by Montex, Viand was apparently so enamoured, she decided to use them all. The most beautiful, however, was a floor-length dress covered in flowers, draped in a layer of fine tulle.

Aside from the gold-tipped Mary Janes worn with many looks, there is a conspicuous absence of accessories on this runway, save for baskets of flowers carried by several models, plus a real dog that walks with a red-jacketed look.

As the show draws to a close and the looks tilt to eveningwear, one dress arrives as an off-the-shoulder, slim-cut gown in richly gathered velvet and finished with a bow. Another is a sheath of fragile chiffon caped around the arms. A double-layered skirt in cady silk is matched with a sheer chiffon top and followed by a cloud of delicate smoke grey silk caught in loose ruffles around the neck. American model Quannah Chasinghorse also wears a floor-length caped look, a delicate strata of sheer silk so fine, she seems to float as she walks.

The final look is perhaps the most telling of all, aimed at the most modern of brides. In ivory, the drop-waisted, knee-length dress has a smocked top and sheer sleeves, and it mixes romance with modernity in a way that is both fresh and delightful.

For the finale, the models reappear, this time in pairs, threes and even fours offering a better insight into Viard's vision. Seen grouped together, the message is clear; the collection proposes a shorthand that will carry its clients through any occasion.

After the show-stopping theatrics of Lagerfeld, Viard's work can seem unprepossessing in comparison. Yet it is under her guiding hand that Chanel is catering to the demands of busy women who need exquisite yet practical clothes over grand ballgowns.

After the show ends, I am taken to Lesage and Montex, two of the many ateliers housed within Chanel's seven-storey 19M complex, which are responsible for creating the wealth of detailing that is haute couture.

Here, I am granted a sneak peek at the extraordinary work each produced for the collection. Montex created shimmering flowers from tiny snippets of tulle and sequins a mere 3mm in diameter, in greys, pinks and blues, then hand-stitched into 3D petals. Lesage, meanwhile, wove shimmering tweeds from 20 different yarns and ribbons of lace by hand.

This, arguably, is the true essence of haute couture: the artisanal craft of clothing that takes hundreds of hours to create. Inside Gabrielle Chanel's apartment on Rue Cambon, there is a small silver box that, while pretty, is entirely unremarkable until it's opened and its golden interior revealed. Chanel, apparently, used it to explain her vision of luxury, of the joy of discreet details only the wearer is aware of. Viard's collection is very much in keeping with this philosophy of creating clothes that are quiet, yet quietly extraordinary.

As the crowd jumps to its feet in applause, joined by the tourists on the opposite bank, this is Viard's moment and her most effortless show to date.

Updated: July 05, 2023, 7:44 AM