Chanel AW21 Haute Couture: The art of fashion or fashion inspired by art?


By Rachel Au

Chanel AW21 Haute Couture: The art of fashion or fashion inspired by art?

If you could wear a painting, what would it be? The answer isn’t any famous painting once you’ve seen Chanel’s Autumn/Winter 2021/22 Haute Couture collection. At a glance, it seems that creative director Virginie Viard has waltzed through hallways of paintings. While her Cruise 2022 collection emitted more punk rock vibes with a majority of black and white looks, her AW21 Couture collection was romantic with hints of impressionism and pointillism—a skill mimicked and brilliantly reimagined with the use of sequins, embroidery and 3D flowers.

The artistic direction isn’t random, however—nor is it something Viard picked up during the course of the lockdown. The show—the first couture show in 18 months that was attended by a real-life audience—was held at the Palais Galliera—City of Paris Fashion Museum where it’s currently hosting a ‘Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto’ exhibition. Plus, within the building is also a new basement space that Chanel exclusively sponsored. Viard’s other source of inspiration for the collection was indeed paintings and pictures—photos of Coco Chanel in historical costumes when she attended masquerades back in the 1930s, a portrait of the young Chanel and through conversations with two women artists.


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While the signature tweed remains a core theme throughout the collection, Viard glamourised it further with the use of shimmery sequins, each painstakingly embroidered into the fabric to form that gentle brushstroke effect in mosaic detail. The pairings of the pieces were also different where tweed met with a skirt of feathers; or paired with tiered ruffled skirts, or broderie anglaise. Texture is everything, and every piece was not in the slightest one-dimensional.

And yet, despite the heavy hand with embellishments and minute details—a testament of the incredible handiwork of the seamstresses and seamsters at the ateliers—the collection looked airy and flowy. Chiffon dresses, tulle, light bodices, bloomers and ribbons also made it to the collection, but each with colours you’ll find in a field of flowers. Think pastel pinks, fresh mint greens and even buttercup yellows.

Of course, Viard’s rock chick edge can still be found—in the mohawk braids (romanticised by the use of flowy satin ribbons), in the fun addition of a tinsel scarf wrapped around the model that donned an all-white pantsuit with a plunging neckline, and more. It’s all very Chanel when you think how well put-together or different the Couture collection looks at a glance, but zoom in on the buttons, the fabrics, the needlework, and you’ll see Chanel. It’s timeless opulence.

However, the show’s highlight happened when actress and ambassador of the House, Margaret Qualley, stepped out like a blushing bride from the past. She was dressed in merely a soft pink satin dress with a scooped back, and matched with a short veil with multi-coloured sequins beneath a black pillbox hat. Fun fact: the entire hat ensemble is based on the one Gabrielle Chanel wore in a 1930s portrait sketch. Like the end of a wedding party, Qualley ended the show by turning her back to the crowd and throwing her bouquet to the happy cheers of the audience. And we, behind our computer screens, are left wanting more.


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MORE: Chanel AW21 Couture collection in photos

What to expect and where to watch the show

Text: 6 July 2021

Paris Haute Couture Week for Autumn/Winter 2021 has begun, and the line-up is exciting for many reasons—among them, physical runway events make their return alongside the new norm of digital formats.

Chanel is no exception with the promise of an upcoming short film by Sofia and Roman Coppola, starring actress and ambassador of the House, Margaret Qualley. If the teaser is anything to go by, we’ll catch the breathtaking details of the Autumn/Winter 2021/22 Haute Couture collection; Qualley getting the last fitting of her dress at the Haute Couture Salons; and the fine craftsmanship by the seamstresses and seamsters within the ateliers—all filmed and photographed at 31 rue Cambon in Paris.

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