Close up: CHANEL Métiers d’art 2019/20 Show

Honouring Gabrielle Chanel’s codes, the bow, the chain, the wheat, the camellia, the two-tone and the double C run through the Métiers d’art collection created by Virginie Viard, Artistic Director of CHANEL’s Fashion collections.

Chanel’s Virginie Viard titled her Métiers d’Art show “Paris-31 rue Cambon” for the fabled street where Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel first set up shop as a milliner in 1910 (“Chanel Modes” at Number 21), and where she later expanded her fashion empire to embrace six additional 18th-century buildings, with her legendary haute couture salons at Number 31.

To emphasize that we were chez Chanel, Viard evoked Coco’s legendary apartment—a study in black, beige, crystal, and old gold that is still preserved intact exactly as she left it at the time of her death in 1971—and the famous mirrored staircase (down which her mannequins once used to glide, and where Chanel herself sat, hidden from view, to spy on the reactions of her clients seated in the salons below).

As Viard explained backstage before her show, the celebrated decorator Jacques Grange is about to embark on a major renovation of those salons, so instead of showcasing her collection there, she recreated the spaces in the chilly immensity of the Grand Palais. “I adore the apartment,” Viard added, and she evidently found inspiration in this setting where Chanel retreated from the running of her house and entertained friends (the feisty designer maintained a bedroom across the street at the Ritz Hotel). Viard described the collection as “the things we like, a mix of Karl and Chanel—the codes.”

The Métiers d’Art collections showcase the wondrous work of the fournisseurs or luxury suppliers of the fashion industry—embroiderers, feather and artificial flower makers, milliners, custom shoemakers, et al.—many of which Chanel has acquired to keep them operational and the skills alive. Viard, who directed the Chanel studio under Lagerfeld for decades, has a fine appreciation of what these ateliers are capable of. Witness the pepper and salt tweed suits with hems that look as though the fabric itself has been fringed but turn out to be feather fronds instead, a bolero of broad feathers overprinted with a shadowy pattern of Chanel’s iconic camellias, or a feather blazer worked into a subtle trompe l’oeil plaid.

There were tricks of the eye, too, in garlands of jewelled belts and necklaces that proved to be embroidered onto the top of a hip-slung skirt. Viard uses the fournisseurs’ artistry with a subtle hand to embellish clothes that riff on the work of Lagerfeld but has unforced wearability that is closer to the spirit of Gabrielle Chanel herself, and an era when fashion shows presented a wide offering of options for their varied, multi-generational clientele.

So while Viard eschews the emphatic silhouettes, witty gimmicks, and giddying season-spinning newsiness of her predecessor, she focuses instead on uncomplicated, client-friendly clothes that have a more timeless appeal—a proposition that may prove a more modern approach to making clothes.(

Each December since 2002, CHANEL unveils a collection dedicated to its Fashion Métiers d’art. This collection highlights the creative dialogue between Virginie Viard, Artistic Director of CHANEL’s Fashion collections, and the Maisons d’art, enhancing the creations of the House.