Paris Fashion Week: Chanel's buttoned ballet, Armani's exquisite excess, and Alexis Mabille's glamorous ode to spring
Chanel's Spring Couture show took a surreal turn with guests, including Naomi Campbell and Kendrick Lamar, manoeuvring past a giant pair of open metal scissors.
An air of surrealism enveloped Chanel’s Spring Couture show Tuesday as celebrity guests including Naomi Campbell and Kendrick Lamar faced a navigational challenge: walking past a towering pair of open metal scissors. That symbolic gateway set the stage for a theater-in-the-round showcase in Paris. The show's spotlight was on a lowly yet groundbreaking fashion element: the button. The motif featured in a short film with Naomi Campbell and as a giant sculpture descending from the ceiling, a feat of fashion theatrics provoking gasps of delight from camera-wielding guests — and a nod of approval from the equally spectacular movie director Baz Luhrmann.
Here are some highlights of Tuesday’s spring couture shows:
BUTTONS AND BALLET
The button is a humble icon, but it was not always so. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was credited with revolutionizing fashion with the women’s suit, and the button on its front was vital, so the house says, to help women “rid themselves of everything that had prevented them from moving freely.”
In Tuesday's frothy and sparkling couture display, showcased beneath the lofty ceilings of the Grand Palais Ephemere, creative director Virginie Viard used the button as a jewel. It infused a collection that celebrated the freedom of movement in the world of ballet and dance.
Viard used the button-jewels as a spice for the drama of the ballet stage, scattering them across contrasting and often segmented silhouettes. A striking tulle ruff neck adornment opened the show, paving the way for pieces like an A-line black mini dress that captured the essence of a ballerina silhouette. The collection’s layering over ballet leotards and tights elegantly glided down the runway.
The house was keenly aware of its history: 2024 marks a century since Coco Chanel first ventured into ballet design. This collection’s pink and white aquarelle palette evoked the vibrant style of the Ballets Russes as envisioned by Léon Bakst and Sergei Diaghilev. “Dance, it’s an essential theme at Chanel. We are closely linked with its institutions, choreographers and dancers, and we often create costumes for the ballet,” Viard said.
The gowns echoed the tight bodices and billowing tulle skirts characteristic of the Ballets Russes. The collection also featured transparent short straight skirts, long dresses and jumpsuits, all with intricate embroideries depicting draperies, little bows, illusion tulle pockets and lace belts, further weaving the ballet theme into the fabric of each garment.
Still, Viard’s collections continue to lack the sense of cohesion — the dominance of one overarching aesthetic in each season — that was closely associated with her predecessor Karl Lagerfeld, who died in 2019.
CHANEL’S CINEMATIC ODE
In a dazzling prelude, a fashion film starring Margaret Qualley, the actress and daughter of Andie MacDowell, illuminated the runway's curtained walls with a whimsical narrative directed by Dave Free. The plot, at times reminiscent of Barbra Streisand’s iconic turn in “Funny Girl,” recounts a tragicomic tale of a beautiful young woman on a desperate quest for a missing button — a journey that leads her to Paris.
Naomi Campbell appears as a serendipitous savior, providing Qualley with a ticket to the fashion capital. The climax unfolds on the famed Rue Cambon, where Qualley meets a modern-day Coco Chanel portrayed by the enigmatic Anna Mouglalis. Mouglalis, with her instantly recognizable baritone, is no stranger to the role, having previously brought the legendary designer to life on screen.
The cinematic adventure set the stage for the real spectacle. As the film concluded, Qualley seamlessly transitioned from screen to stage, opening the couture show.
ARMANI’S GLITTERING ODE TO EXCESS
“Fashion is undoubtedly a serious matter for Giorgio Armani but can also represent play … especially with haute couture, a space in which the designer can indulge in unexpected bursts of creativity,” so said the house.
Indulge, Giorgio Armani did – for a couture show in the Palais de Tokyo that turned a faux marble runway into a night that redefined excess. Amidst the sweltering heat and relentless paparazzi, a galaxy of stars aligned in the front row – a demure Gwyneth Paltrow mingled with Glenn Close in a jewel-encrusted Armani tuxedo. While, Juliette Binoche’s sultry leather and glove ensemble commanded the spotlight.
Fashionably late, the show began with a flourish of floral motifs on jackets with softly rounded shoulders, cascading effortlessly into loose pleated pants. A dance of sheer lace across jackets and blouses brought a breezy, ethereal quality, whispering of spring’s gentle touch while jacquard added textures.
But then, in true Armani fashion, the spectacle turned to sparkle. Diamond-encrusted ponytails shone like constellations above a parade of shimmering bejeweled bodices, leading into a blinding array of night gowns. The seemingly never-ending display deployed a kaleidoscope of aqueous tones – pale pinks, jade green, soft blues, gold flashes, midnight and royal blues, in celebration of Armani’s unapologetic love for exuberance.
Moments of Arabian nights and fantasy princesses intermingled, creating a theatrical universe that bordered on the fantastical. Yet, amidst this whirlwind of imagination, Armani’s signature tailoring stood out. Long, meticulously crafted suits paid homage to his roots in tailoring, a nod to the precision and elegance that underpin his design philosophy.
Armani, the 89-year-old fashion maestro, embraced his mantra of ‘more is more’ with open arms – waving warmly at his audience as he came out for the finale.
MABILLE'S CLASSIC GLAMOUR
In a blaze of pearl, gold and obsidian, Alexis Mabille transported guests to the realm of old-school couture in the halls of Christie's auction house. This extravagant spring display featured the satin sheens reminiscent of Asiatic fashion codes, showcasing Mabille's roving eye.
The giant white bows that cascaded from the chest were a hallmark of his design aesthetic. These bows then mingled effortlessly with Eastern-inspired fabric sashes, gracefully swooshing around the models and accentuating the sumptuous textures of silk fabrics that invigorated the display.
Mabille’s focus on archetypical couture was showcased in his highly crafted garments. The attention to detail was clear, from the scalloped bustier, reminiscent of seashell waves, to the ruffles of fabric around the bust, which evoked imagery of a cloud and the intricate beauty of coral. In a world that often seeks the innovative, Mabille reminds us of the enduring allure of classic couture.
ROLLAND’S NEXT GENERATION OF COUTURIERS
This season, Stephane Rolland forwent the razzmatazz that once saw Kim Kardashian a staple at his shows, for a different kind of display. At Paris’ Salle Pleyel concert hall, the French couturier began by unveiling designs made by 20 students from two French fashion schools. Rolland called it “a day of transmission” as he praised the talents of the next generation of fashion designers.
Haute couture – sometimes called the fashion industry’s ideas factory -- is the age-old tradition of producing exorbitantly priced, made-to-measure garments for the world’s richest women. It exists only in Paris.
The result of the effort were some experimental styles – and myriad plays on proportion. The first a white tunic gown had gathered voluminous lengths of fabric at the back resembling angel wings-- or a heavy, old-fashioned curtain. Elsewhere a large fabric disc obscured one model’s face, as if to say look at the clothes and not the human. Giant white draped arms on another look resembled parachutes.
ROLLAND’S ARABIAN MYSTIQUE
Rolland, for his own couture effort, transported the audience to a realm of Arabian Mystique — set against the backdrop of a colossal plasma video depicting a desert landscape.
A sheeny bronze hooded cape dress graced the stage, its style a signature of Rolland’s aesthetic. Other hallmarks included a blood-red gown with a grand fabric swoosh cascading from the waist that enveloped the model’s head like a luxurious headscarf.
The allure of Rolland’s creations extended to the accessories, with long black necklaces alongside thick gold waist and bust adornments. Amidst the grandeur, moments of pure poetry emerged. A pale copper gown, with its ethereal beauty, captured the audience’s imagination. Its three-dimensional back design evoked an underwater medusa.