The splashiest new venue in Paris fashion, the setting for a Chanel catwalk show bedazzled with pearls and sequins, is a workshop that celebrates the old-fashioned art of craft-made clothes that last a lifetime.
Designer Virginie Viard took only the briefest of bows at Chanel’s Métiers d’art show. Instead the spotlight fell on the 600 embroiderers, pleaters, goldsmiths and other artisans who work at the state of the art building, le19M, where it was held. Victoire, a machinist in her early 20s, gave a pre-show demonstration of Chanel’s trademark quilted stitching while Marina, a jewellery maker, talked show guests through the making of a pair of the brand’s famous double-C earrings.
Fashion made at le19M will be beyond the budget of all but the wealthiest consumers but the principle of trendless clothing that is made to last, which seemed an anachronism on the verge of extinction while the industry was in its imperial phase of unbridled expansion, is once more in step with the spirit of the times. And a show event that highlights the talents of those behind the scenes – a contrast to when Karl Lagerfeld was Chanel’s larger-than-life frontman – reflects a sustainability-influenced shift in the industry to considering how clothes are made, as well as how they look.
“When you think of a fashion atelier, you imagine something old,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, before the show. “We wanted to build somewhere where young people would want to work, so we tried not to make it boring.” An exoskeleton of white concrete pylons wrap around the seven storey building like a giant web of silk threads, and the courtyard garden is modishly accessorised with beehives and nesting boxes. Pavlovsky believes that recruiting a new generation to learn skills sidelined by the rise of mass manufacturing is essential to futureproofing fashion. The workshops will take commissions from other top houses including Valentino, Balenciaga and arch-rival Dior as well as from Chanel.
Le19M is named both for one of Coco Chanel’s lucky numbers and for its 19th arrondissement location in a Parys suburb. Chanel tends to fetishise a haughty, narrow vision of Parisian chic, but Viard seems to be nudging away from snobbishness into an aesthetic that acknowledges the Paris beyond Haussman’s boulevards. Viard said she wanted the Métiers d’art collection to be “metropolitan but sophisticated” and asked the rapper MC Solaar (real name Claude M’Barali), who grew up in the neighbouring area of Saint-Denis, to write an accompanying text. The famous tweed jackets came as bomber jackets, worn with culottes that looked like basketball shorts. There were bleached jeans, and a tracksuit embroidered with the Chanel double C.
Chanel this week faced a brutal social media backlash after TikTok influencers roasted the brand for the disappointing contents of a £600 advent calendar. “Unboxing” videos displaying Chanel stickers, temporary tattoos and plastic snow globes went viral, and outrage spread to Instagram, where under a Chanel post of a film trailing the Métiers d’art show, one commenter asked if the film was funded by advent calendar sales. “Perhaps we made a mistake,” admitted Pavlovsky. “We are taking the matter very seriously.”
Chanel have previously shown Métiers d’art collections in New York, Moscow, Edinburgh and Dubai, but with this show doubled down on the brand’s French identity. With travel restrictions tightening once again, it seems globetrotting does not speak to the zeitgeist.