The French, a loyal people to their old friends, like to hold onto their heroes. Even in fashion, an industry built on permanent change. And loyalty to an antediluvian legacy was very much the key story in Chanel’s cruise 2022 collection unveiled Tuesday evening in a show video shot inside the monumental cavern of Carrières de Lumières, in the ancient village of Les Baux-de-Provence.
A Chanel cruise 2022 collection, whose inspiration was the friendship of Coco Chanel and poet, dramatist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. That’s an alliance that dates back a century.
The result was a posh-punk collection from the house’s creative director Virginie Viard that made multiple references to the shared obsessions of Coco and Jean – tarot cards, astrology, blatant symbolism and the body beautiful.
A show video shot among slanted evening light before the pale ecru walls of the white chalk cavern, where Cocteau, amazed by its beauty, shot sequences of his 1960 film Testament of Orpheus.
Mixing black and white and color footage, the show featured elongated shirt jackets in crepe; bold wide-lapel jackets; and flowing pants. Throughout, the pants, cocktails and silk shirts were embroidered in tarot card stars; waves and mini suns.
While kicky and finely made, nothing looked terribly cool. Indeed this posh-punk version of Chanel felt rather strained. Plus, several Madonna references to her early days of mixing black and white singlets and T-shirts over leather minis weren’t exactly contemporary. Moreover, Viard’s preference for shorter and wider shapes, especially in crystal-embroidered dresses, made several models look positively chunky.
The mood improved dramatically for evening with some splendidly gathered gowns, frocks and marabou feather-covered mini frocks worn over fishnet tights. They had the polished panache and classy irreverence that one associates with Chanel. While a quintet of creations in a striking black and white print – which had been telegraphed in a pre-show video – had great joie de vivre.
Shot by Inez & Vinoodh, the pre-show teaser featured six silhouettes from the collection worn by model Lola Nicon, as she lounges about Gabrielle Chanel’s famed apartment at 31 rue Cambon, in Paris, surrounded by the creator’s vestiary and symbols. Miss Nicon even wears a punky black T-shirt bearing her own face as she lays on a beige suede sofa amid the baroque decor of Coco’s home. At the time of their friendship, Coco was still living around the corner on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where poet Jean could smoke opium, attempting to get over the early death of his great love, writer Raymond Radiguet.
Cocteau and Chanel made for an unlikely friendship, but a deep one. One the pampered son of the posh Paris haute bourgeoisie, the other an orphan from market trader parents from deepest rural France. However, they shared intense ambition and a desire to pass their lives among the artistic milieu of the highest level. Above all their sense of aesthetics, appreciation of the human figure and admiration even for tanning – previously a shine of peasant poverty – marked them out as kindred souls. Cocteau also encouraged Chanel to work with the likes of Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky, stretching her creatively.
Chanel, like many designers, was superstitious, as indeed was Cocteau. Chanel read Cocteau’s tarot cards; he read her palm. Coco first created costumes for Jean for Cocteau’s version of Antigone; a look so tough one critic said the actress looked like a “Greek Samurai.” While in Cocteau’s 1926 stage version of Orpheus, Chanel portrayed the figure of death dressed in a pink chiffon ball gown and chinchilla coat.
Something of that brainy chutzpah would have been welcome in today’s cruise collection.
Though a subsequent work, Le Train Bleu, probably made more of an impact. In a few celebrated sentences, Cocteau gave the couturier the following brief: “The costumes must be elegance itself, with no hint of theatricality. The ballet must be fashionable; it must hit exactly the right spot. It’s impossible to deceive fashionistas about fashion.” How true. The result was beach robes draped around swimmers’ bodies; lots of sunglasses; tennis players in white wool and a golfer in a Prince of Wales blazer in the faux operetta.
Something of those ideas were present in this cruise collection, with tony nautical looks and yachting blazers.
Tellingly, the poet added in his brief to Coco, “the ballet should go out of fashion within a year and remain an image of 1924.” In today’s case, it is the fashion that seems more likely to go out of fashion within a year.
In the end, an impoverished Cocteau – loath to request help from his wealthy mother – was well paid for his literary talents by Chanel, who hired him to rewrite press releases or interviews and even window-dress her rue Cambon boutique.
The house continues to hire fresh talents. One legacy of the Karl Lagerfeld years is that Chanel is now a brand forever associated with illustration. This season’s solution was to hire the talented young British artist Luke Edward Hall, who sketched illustrations of the meeting of Coco’s fashion and Cocteau’s centaur seen in the show link.
Fresh-faced, however, was hardly the word one would use to describe the post-show concert. Led by Sebastien Tellier, an old pal of the house who performed in Lagerfeld shows for Chanel, and including a charming rendition of Marvin Gaye’s classic Sunny, it also had a brief performance from Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco. It was surely a coincidence that watching Charlotte, I recalled American rock critic David Hiltbrand’s review of her aunt Princess Stéphanie’s second album.
“On this record, she’s singing about what she knows best: the VIP section at nightclubs around the world. No, sorry. She’s singing about l’amour. Toujours l’amour. And who better than the gal who has established a royal record for kissing frogs? Who better? Well, maybe someone with a voice that encompasses passion or someone who comprehends phrasing. This isn’t a humiliating outing. But it sure is embarrassing. Oh, Steph hits all the notes but, unfortunately, without any conviction or depth.”