“Fashion doesn’t always have to be serious,” shrugged Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, as a troupe of high-ponytailed roller skaters in glitter lame catsuits weaved a conga line across a California basketball court and Patrice Rushen’s 1982 dancefloor classic Forget Me Nots boomed from the speakers.
Chanel catwalk shows don’t normally close with Snoop Dogg on stage asking the crowd: “Do we got any weed smokers in the house?” But the home of the neat tweed suit and the little black dress is in unusually high spirits of late. A week after a 6ft furry tribute to Karl Lagerfeld’s beloved pet cat stole the show at the fancy dress extravaganza of the Met Gala, where Chanel was the main sponsor, the current designer Virginie Viard went toe to toe with her flamboyant predecessor with a night of kitsch Americana to launch her latest cruise collection in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening.
Fashion usually looks to Hollywood for untouchable glamour, but here Hollywood stood for entertainment. This was the ditzy, tongue-in-cheek, pastel-toned screwball Hollywood of Clueless, Almost Famous, I, Tonya and the forthcoming Barbie movie rather than the rarefied silver screen world of High Society and The Philadelphia Story.
The night air was scented not with Chanel No 5, but with the signature sizzled-onion scent from the burger trucks that lined the catwalk. When Margot Robbie, Nile Rodgers and Kristen Stewart were in their courtside seats and the show began, tweed suits turned out to mean Varsity-style lettered jackets twinned with hotpants, this season. Chanel-logo legwarmers were worn with hi-top trainers, a rainbow dip-dyed mini kaftan came with a minaudière handbag styled as a tiny VW Campervan.
Before the show Pavlovsky said: “We came here for the energy of Los Angeles, more than its history. The Met was a celebration of Karl, and now this show is about Virginie and about the Chanel of tomorrow. This is about freedom and about summer.”
However, the tone of Hollywood escapism, and the historic location on the Paramount Studios lot, hit a jarring note in the context of the writers’ strike.
Chanel assured guests who questioned whether they would be crossing a picket line that they would “enter the event through a neutral gate and are not in violation of the strike by being on property to attend this event” and added that the location “in no way reflects any position by Chanel on the current situation”.
Pavlovsky declined to comment, although he added: “Chanel is about creative talent, and I strongly believe that creative people are the most important resource of our industry. I am totally convinced that technology cannot change that. Creation is first and foremost about people, and we need to respect and protect those people.”
The Met Gala was proof that even four years after his death, Karl Lagerfeld, who led Chanel for 36 years, is a superstar. This September, a major Coco Chanel retrospective at the V&A in London will spotlight the founder of the house. Virginie Viard has the formidable task of creating a modern vision for Chanel that can step out of the shadow of the larger-than-life figures of Karl and Coco which loom, Mount Rushmore-scale, over her design studio.
The confident tone of Viard’s Hollywood show reflects strong business growth: annual sales in 2021, the latest results published, stood at $15.6bn ($12bn), a rise of 22.9% on pre-pandemic figures. Second only to Louis Vuitton in revenue, Chanel remains privately owned by Alain and Gérard Wertheimer, grandsons of Coco Chanel’s business partner, Pierre Wertheimer, making it an anomaly in a market dominated by multi-brand luxury groups.
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