Chanel’s Paris couture show on Tuesday afternoon opened with its famous tweed jacket – but instead of it being worn by a gamine catwalk model emerging from backstage, it featured in a film projected on to the venue’s walls, worn by the musician Pharrell Williams, who was playing drums.
Culture was in the air in the bright, greenhouse-style hall, which featured ergonomic sculptures by artist Xavier Veilhan. Along with the customary perfume on each seat, goodie bags contained records by French singer and songwriter Sébastian Tellier, who sat front row – also in a tweed jacket – with Keira Knightley and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Tellier’s music soundtracked the show.
Of course, a brand valued at approximately $13.2bn (£11.03bn) with a 1% clientele to please isn’t going to bank on cool points entirely for one of their catwalk shows. With the atmosphere set, the collection ticked all the boxes Chanel is known for: there was a heavy focus on tweed suiting and long coats in different colours (a hard ask for models on a hot July day), monochrome layers on gossamer-light dresses, and the customary bride at the end of the show. Cowboy boots, worn by most models, added a bit of edge.
A section of eveningwear was most striking in that it felt wearable: black and green dresses in chiffon and jersey looked less red carpet, and had the kind of easy black-tie glamour non-celebrities could embrace – assuming they had the budget. This pivot to clothes that play to the needs, desires and lifestyle of customers could be the effect of Virginie Viard. Having taken over after Karl Lagerfeld’s death in 2019, she is Chanel’s first female designer since Coco herself in the 60s.
Chanel is one of a number of luxury brands now more explicitly courting the most super of the super-rich – the consumers who have the budget to actually buy couture clothes. Balenciaga will open a couture-only store in Paris this week, selling items including sunglasses for €3500 (£3009). Next year, Chanel will open a series of boutiques in Asia exclusively for its VIP customers, with China predicted to become the biggest global luxury market by 2025.
The brand remains a popular symbol of luxury throughout the world, so much so that luxury consumers continue to fuel demand for its famous bags despite six price rises since the start of the pandemic in 2020. When Chanel banned sales to Russian nationals in April, the country’s influencers were so upset that they took to social media to cut up their Chanel goods in protest. The revenue reflects this popularity. In 2021, it increased by 50% year-on-year, up 23% from pre-pandemic levels.
A new exhibition on Coco Chanel’s work, Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, will take place at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum next year. It will feature over 180 designs, plus jewellery and perfume, showcasing her undeniably huge contribution to modern fashion (and skirting her associations with nazism). Sponsored by the brand, it will no doubt cement its impressive legacy – and likely provide yet another sales boost in the process.