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One year after the death of Karl Lagerfeld, can Chanel find its voice?

Once the talk of Paris Fashion Week, Chanel now speaks only in whispers.

One year after the death of Karl Lagerfeld, can Chanel find its voice?

Gigi Hadid walks for the Chanel Autumn/Winter 2020/21 runway show at Paris Fashion Week. (Photo: Chanel)

It was just one year ago that Karl Lagerfeld’s final collection for Chanel was shown at the Grand Palais, 14 days after his passing. The air was thick, then, with the sense of the historical moment – Lagerfeld had been Chanel’s creative tour de force for 36 years – and models and clients marvelled or wept as they wandered through the snowy alpine village he had dreamt up for his last bow.

READ> A teary-eyed farewell at Karl Lagerfeld's last show for Chanel

A year later, much at Chanel remains the same, though it speaks more quietly than it used to. Instead of bringing in a well-known outsider, Chanel promoted his longtime right-hand, Virginie Viard, who has given few interviews. Those she has given have been devoid of the spark and controversy that would keep Lagerfeld’s name in the headlines for weeks. The show sets are also simpler, less costly, absent of the rockets or life-sized supermarkets of the Lagerfeld years. 

At Paris Fashion Week 2020, models strut down a lightly misted runway for the debut of Chanel's Autumn/Winter 2020/21 collection. (Photo: Chanel)
The runway show was held in the historic Grand Palais. (Photo: Chanel)

Instead, Tuesday’s show featured a plain mirrored catwalk, lightly misted, which wound between white-and-black risers stacked like Chanel hat boxes. Models stepped out, sometimes in twos or threes, outfitted in slim A-line tweed coats, boxy wool jackets with scalloped edges, and roomy jodhpurs left unbuttoned over, or tucked into, swashbuckling boots. They, and the waistless black velvet dresses, looked comfortable and easy after a week of sharp waists and skin-tight latex – an effect mired by the cheap-looking medallion necklaces, heavy cross brooches and chain belts piled on top.

Models walked out at times in sets of twos and threes. (Photo: Chanel)
Kaia Gerber walks the runway in an off-shoulder black gown. (Photo: Chanel)

Missing was a theme, a narrative, a crackle of excitement. Chanel’s shows are often the most talked-about of fashion week, fetching front-page headlines and generating hundreds of millions of page views for online publishers.

Loose, studded trousers split open at the sides and jodhpur-style looks took center stage. (Photo: Chanel)

Chanel is the world’s second-largest luxury brand behind Louis Vuitton, with 2018 revenues of US$11.1 billion (S$15.4 billion), an increase of 10.5 per cent compared to the previous year. Such growth will be difficult to sustain if Viard doesn’t learn to speak up.

By Lauren Indvik © 2020 The Financial Times

READ> Gigi Hadid, Kris Jenner remember Karl Lagerfeld a year after his death