The camellias are out in Paris—ever the first optimistic sign of spring, despite this week’s frigid weather. Perhaps that’s one reason that Coco Chanel cultivated them as one of the signifiers of her house. She first pinned one of the blooms on a dress in 1923. Was a consciousness of centenary of the Chanel camellia in the back of Virginie Viard’s mind when she picked it as the center-piece of her fall ready-to-wear show?

Viard had organized a giant symbolic white camellia as a set, and had a real one placed on every guest’s seat, but she wasn’t pressing the anniversary angle. “The camellia is more than a theme, it’s an eternal code of the house,” she said in her press release. “I find it reassuring and familiar, I like its softness and its strength.”

A taste for propagating a contemporary realness around Chanel’s enviable Frenchness is more Viard’s thing. Like so many others this season, she opened with variations on black, white and gray. White camellias ran up a black trellis on a long, slim, tweed coat; they clustered as a corsage on slick black patent Mod-ish suits and popped up like polka dots all over cardigan jackets. From the minutest of embroideries to the button-shapes to the big, fuzzy angora pattern on a sweater, and swinging on multiple chain-bags, the flowers were absolutely everywhere.

The formalities of the Chanel canon are constantly open to reinterpretation, as Karl Lagerfeld supremely taught. While staying within the guardrails of Chanel’s femininity and decorativeness, his former first assistant and successor has added her own dash of quirkiness to the mix. Some of the suits came paired with tweed bermudas, bloomers or leather shorts, teamed up with white floral lace tights and knee boots.

Viard didn’t make a big play for evening—the finale was of camellia-print silk dresses, layered over sweaters and longjohns. This was more (perhaps like Nicolas Ghesquière’s collection for Vuitton) a depiction of what Parisian style might mean as worn by women on the street. It was good to see Viard extending her sense of reality to including mid-size models in that. As distinctive as Chanel is with its camellias, it’s a house that offers something for all women to buy into.


March 7, 2023