Chanel delves into founder’s orphanage past in couture show

International

Models wear creations for the Chanel Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 fashion collection presented Tuesday Jan. 21, 2020 in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

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PARIS (AP) — A humble stone fountain, overgrown scrubs and flowers and white sheets drying on a line met Chanel’s curious guests, including Pharrell Williams, on Tuesday inside the Grand Palais in Paris.

The set was a recreation of the childhood landscape of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the late fashion house’s founder, whose father sent her to an orphanage in an abbey as a girl after her mother died.

If such a lowly — and sad — setting seemed like an unusual choice to showcase high-priced and normally joyous haute couture, it was an intentional move by designer Virginie Viard to demonstrate how Chanel mixed high and low in her fashion.

Here are some highlights of Tuesday’s 2020 couture shows in the French capital.

CHANEL DELVES INTO FOUNDER’S ORPHANAGE CHILDHOOD

Chanel, Viard discovered, had been profoundly inspired in all her designs by the ancient Cistercian abbey of Aubazine, in the French region of Corrèze — with its flowers, uniforms and stained-glass artistry.

The theme made for a more haunting collection than normal — a mood emphasized by loud, spooky music and models that slowly crisscrossed the courtyard like they were in a trance.

A take on a convent schoolgirl uniform opened the show as a signature Chanel tweed skirt-suit. It was cut sharply, with a round ecclesiastical white collar and baggy white preppy ankle socks. Mosaic patterns in panels evoking stained glass appeared on an equally strict jacket in pastel blue and sand. Apart from the occasional flash of color, most of the designs came in black and white.

“What interested me in this (abbey) was the paradox between the sophistication of haute couture and the simplicity of this place,” Viard said. “The strict suits of the pupils rub shoulders with structured dresses of an ethereal finesse.”

Viard has a stricter aesthetic take than the flamboyant Karl Lagerfeld, her predecessor who died last year. And this more austere theme gave the talented French designer a platform to design more naturally with her own voice.

ALEXIS MABILLE TEESES HIS GUESTS

Burlesque superstar Dita Von Teese opened the show for Alexis Mabille in a black tuxedo with sensual decollete that dripped down the leg with brooding black sequins.

The French couturier this season used Von Teese — and her styles — as the touchstone for a collection that explored corsetry, lingerie and seductive undressing.

A white satin bustier was covered gently by a see-through lace chemise. A white floor-length gown had a bold dropped shoulder in which the segments seemed to fall off the bust, as if the model were in the process of undressing.

Mabille also used his signature bow theme to produce a gargantuan abstract neck bow whose proportions drowned the model. It was highly inventive.

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