As this week has already shown, and with some influential names still to present, haute couture can mean very different things to different designers. A platform for a soaring imagination or a response to the zeitgeist perhaps, or a showcase for the technical artistry of the ateliers and the fournisseurs who supply those ateliers with extraordinary textiles, accessories, and embellishments.

For Chanel’s Artistic Director Virginie Viard, her collections reflect the pragmatic needs and desires of the house’s clients and her own eclectic but never fantastical sources of inspiration. Not for Viard the sweeping statements of her mentor Karl Lagerfeld, who might impose a powerful new silhouette on practically every look in a collection, but instead a sense of gentle evolution and a myriad of references and inspiration sparks that might range (as in this collection) from a blinding memory of Inès de Fressange dressed by Lagerfeld in a jacket of bright grass green and shocking pink (for a 1988 Chanel couture show, when Viard first joined the house), to a shot of Fred Astaire in cinematic action, the tails of his white tie evening coat caught flaring out in mid-dance move, to a 19th century shot of a real-life Annie Oakley, to archive Chanel references from slouchy 1920s day suits to slithery 1930s gowns to prim 1960s tailoring, to Lagerfeld’s vividly impressionistic sketches from the 2000s.

None of these references, however, are used by Viard in what the French call the premier degré, that is, literally, but instead serve as starting points for outfits that evolve with the input of the textile designers and makers who weave those extraordinary painterly tweeds, and the dressmakers who understand how to make perfect pleats that “move beautifully,” as guest Sigourney Weaver enthused, “and are just so elegant.”

That Astaire flare, for instance, might translate into the kick at the hem of a calf length skirt, the Oakley image into a dirndl skirt with practical pockets that encourage a certain assertive body language (and perhaps those sturdy short gaucho riding boots), the ’30s house archive references into slinky evening dresses deftly cut to fall straight to the floor when standing still, but that break into swirling movement below the knee when the wearer walks.

To set the scene, Viard reached out again to the artist Xavier Veilhan who created a Constructivist set for the spring couture collection. This time, Veilhan built a series of structures that formed a symbolic landscape (arches, bullseye targets, mobiles, cubes of bubblegum pink recycled plastics) in the sandy outdoor stadium of the equestrian L’Étrier de Paris center in the Bois de Boulogne. Guests walked through or around these structures before moving indoors to more sand and a set of kinetic color blocks in black, white, sand yellow, and gray. This gently suggested something of the art deco flavor to the drop-waisted dresses and linear shapes that appeared in some looks in the collection (and included an eye popping Taroni silk that Viard paired with a stylish bolero in stripes of black and white sequins and bugle beads).

The symphonic soundtrack, created by Viard’s friend Sébastien Tellier, was set to a video projected on a giant screen as a backdrop to the parade of girls, an impressionistic clip that featured an varied cast including Charlotte Casiraghi and Pharrell Williams. That eclecticism continued with the clothes, showcasing amazing textiles—lace painted in resin; a shower of embroidered leaves on a white tulle trapeze dress, shadowing a print of the same motif underneath; an all-over deco print on a bell-skirted coat dress that on closer inspection turned out have been entirely beaded in sequins by Lesage; or tufts of ostrich plumes painstakingly applied to black chiffon and glimpsed through the openings in a streamlined trench coat of textured black tweed.

Unfortunately, in this epic set and seen from a distance, many of those very subtle details, pointed out by Viard during a fitting in the Chanel atelier on the eve of the presentation, and so beautiful in the hand, were lost. What remained was a hypnotic sense of the gentle flow of pleats and of fabric dexterously manipulated by highly skilled hands so that the effect—achieved through years of know-how and savoir-faire—seemed effortless. In other words, pure haute couture.

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