Chanel: So Novel!

The staging of the house’s recent haute couture collection in Paris, a magnificent architectural library built inside the Grand Palais, was a nod to its two great couturiers, and their love of the written word 

The Chanel haute couture 2019 finale at the Grand Palais, and below, the house's Artistic Director, Virigine Viard takes her bow.

T o mark her haute couture debut, artistic director Virginie Viard presented a concise and restrained collection, set against an imposing circular library in the Grand Palais, which paid homage to three important house codes: most poignantly, the legacy of Karl Lagerfeld and his eternal obsession for information gathering, also Viard’s years of learning under the great master and the passion they shared for books, and then Gabrielle Chanel’s own fascination with literature and the iconography of her famous book-filled apartment on rue Cambon in Paris.

The genius of Viard’s collection was in its discreet details and the contrast between classic and modern: the buttoned coatdresses, her pleated modern-day ruffs reimagined from the Tudors, the sculptural jackets worn with T-shirts and trailing diaphanous skirts; masculine-feminine, hard and soft. To push the point, she added in poetic inscriptions and the kind of metal-framed reading spectacles you might wear even without optic lenses.

In the house’s press notes, Viard stated: "I dreamt about a woman with nonchalant elegance and a fluid and free silhouette; everything I like about the Chanel allure," and it’s true the ease of the collection coupled with its intellectual chic proved a powerful theme – tweed coats were cut in masculine shapes, whilst lace and chiffon dresses emphasised the ateliers’ affinity for delicate volume, froth and lightness. 

All that theatre and romance translated into a fitting love-note to Lagerfeld who passed away earlier this year. A famous book collector himself, Lagerfeld counted 300,000 plus tomes in his personal libraries housed between Paris, Monte Carlo, Rome and Biarritz. The couturier had an insatiable appetite for reading and discovering the new, and from that came an electric energy that charged the French fashion house season after season. Books, journals, magazines were his addiction. He once remarked: "It's an illness, I'm not afraid to admit it […] My library is incredibly varied, there are quite a few biographies […] but also lots of albums, art books. You see how consuming this passion is!” 

Dream Weaver: Karl Lagerfeld in his Paris apartment photographed by Horst. P. Horst, 1974; and below Gabrielle Chanel on rue Cambon in Paris. 

Through The Looking Glass: The show's statement accessory – spectacles; and below, a vignette from Gabrielle Chanel's apartment at the Ritz hotel, her book and glasses, photographed by François Kollar.

Stay For A While: above and below, Mme Chanel with actress Jeanne Moreau, captured by Mark Shaw for Life magazine, in 1967.

Well Read: above, Lagerfeld famously collected more than 300,000 books; and below a candid moment captured at a Parisian magazine stand by photographer Rebecca Plotnik.