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Animal parade: The whimsical appeal of Chanel’s spring 2023 haute couture looks

Creative director Virginie Viard finds wonder and inspiration in the menagerie of animals in Chanel’s legendary Rue Cambon apartment and, unexpectedly, peppy majorette outfits.

Animal parade: The whimsical appeal of Chanel’s spring 2023 haute couture looks

On left: Tweed coat dress with deer motif and bejewelled buttons, leather and patent leather duo-tone ankle boots. On right: Embroidered sequin dress in silk tulle with rabbit motif and feathers, bow tie in satin and silk tulle, and patent duo-tone ankle boots. (Photo: Reuben Foong)

Surreal and yet whimsical – that’s what the set of Chanel’s spring/summer 2023 haute couture presentation immediately brought to mind. Huge animal sculptures, including a camel, bird, dog and more – made out of plywood, paper and cardboard – form an abstract setting from which models dressed in the collection emerged at various points throughout the show.There’s a perfect reason for putting up these towering creatures – the inspiration for this new collection came from the animal icons found in Gabrielle Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment. The set design is a result of a collaboration with French artist Xavier Veilhan, who also produced a film and a series of photos centred on the haute couture concept and collection.

Tweed long jacket with bejewelled buttons, silk tulle embroidered skirt in with tassels, felt top hat, and patent leather slingback loafers. (Photo: Reuben Foong)
This skirt requires Lemarie's (the expert in flower and feather making since 1880) three out of four savoir-faire: Flowers, pleating by maison Lognon (expert pleater since 1853) and couture sewing. The base is made from 1cm flat pleated panels by Lognon. Lemarie's couture atelier then carefully flattens the folds of the pleated panels and embellishes them with an embroidery representing a shower of beads and strass (about 9,000 pieces are sewn on). Hand-frayed white tulle tassels and dahlia petal cut-outs with little embroidered beads are applied in a staggered pattern (about 150 double tulle frayed tassels and dahlia petals in white silk organza). The florists then emboss each strip that makes up the petal with a knife to form a vertical fold and striate the petal. (Photo: Reuben Foong)

Kittens, corgis, rabbits, swallows, does and stags find their way onto short tweed suits and coat dresses in the form on embroidery, imbuing in them a youthful twist that is mirrored in the whimsy of the runway decor. In fact, according to Chanel’s creative director, Virginie Viard, the whole embroidery universe of the collection is turned towards the animal world.

On left: Organza coat dress with chiffon and charmeuse ribbons and bejewelled buttons, bowtie in satin and silk tulle, and leather and patent leather duo-tone ankle boots. On right: Tweed tulle organza jacket with puff sleeves and bejewelled buttons, matching skirt, felt top hat, bow tie in satin and silk tulle, and leather and patent leather duo-tone ankle boots. (Photo: Reuben Foong)
Chanel haute couture is never conventional and constantly surprises through its defiance of preconceived ideas and savoir-faire, just like this tweed jacket with puff sleeves. The bracelet sleeves are delicately sewn by hand together with tulle and cigaline daisies. (Photo: Reuben Foong)

Viard also took cues from the dressing style of baton-twirling majorettes in festive parades – think short shorts, pleated skirts, tailed or double-breasted jackets, all of which are a nod to the peppy uniforms they typically wear. High hemlines naturally dominate this collection, but are also interspersed by jumpsuits and long dresses. The looks are aptly accessorised with top hats, bow ties, gloves and toe-capped lace-up boots, completing Chanel’s high-fashion take on majorette style.

Embroidered silk tulle tunic with butterfly motif, embellished lace blouse with bejewelled buttons, matching pencil skirt, felt top hat, and leather and patent leather duo-tone ankle boots. (Photo: Reuben Foong)
This pleated blouse with shirt collar and long transparent sleeves open at the cuff in multi-coloured lace over flesh-coloured silk tulle, is painstakingly put together by hand. (Photo: Reuben Foong)

The maison’s signature Lesage tweed is used to give form and structure to coat dresses and jackets, embellished with jewelled buttons and – in one stunning example of the latter – playful and feminine cigaline flowers.

Waistcoat in organza embroidered with floral motifs and bejewelled buttons, lace blouse with bird motif and bejewelled buttons, wide-cut lace trousers with matching bird motif, felt top hat, and bowtie in satin and silk tulle. (Photo: Reuben Foong)
The Métiers d'art carry out the embellishments that magnify Chanel's creations - from delicate embroideries and pleating to exquisite ornaments. The exceptional craftsmanship can be seen on this lace shirt and vest decorated with hundreds of bird and floral motifs. (Photo: Reuben Foong)

At the same time, Viard also introduced lightness and transparency to the collection with lace, taffeta, organza and silk tulle. These were heavily embellished with sequins to create patterns and motifs, or hand-painted all over with floral or animal motifs for a girlish, whimsical, spring-ready feel.

Embroidered organza dress with floral and deer motifs, felt top hat, bow tie in satin and silk tulle, and leather and patent duo-tone ankle boots. (Photo: Reuben Foong)
The deer and foliage in shiny satin organza were inspired by old lace motifs. The atelier first trace the outline of the deer on tissue paper and stitched with a flat stitcher. The seamstress then removes the paper and places a picot (a small loop or series of small loops of twisted thread in lace or embroidery) above this outline. It is the stitched by the embroiderers - a very delicate, clean and refined process. (Photo: Chanel)

The animals at the centre of the theme play a game of hide and seek on a number of the looks, and are subtly but cleverly incorporated into each design. Take, for example, the dog motif used to compose a houndstooth-like motif, delicately outlined deer standing amid trees in a forest, and rhinestone cats seemingly camouflaged by colourful swirls of sequins. In fact, one might miss them if they weren’t told where exactly on each outfit to spot them.

Worth noting is the fact that petticoats are a key component of many of the looks, even if they are not visible. Worn underneath skirts and dresses, they provide that all-important volume and flare characteristic of the majorette uniform.

Elsewhere, volume is created via massive amounts of flounces and days of painstaking work by the masters at Chanel’s metiers d’art ateliers. On one dress, it took 120 metres of soft tulle gathered and laid in scrolls to create the flounced layers that adorn its bottom, while another dress with a full, ballgown-style long skirt required the use of a whopping 1,350 flounces, 750 circles of different sizes and 70 metres of organza in total.

The fresh and youthful vibe may, at first glance, belie the intricate work that went into these haute couture creations. But the attention to details and exceptional skills that they took are at once evident on a closer look, not least the playful takes on the animal iconography that was the starting point to it all.

01:30 Min

Creative director Virginie Viard finds wonder and inspiration in the menagerie of animals in Chanel’s legendary Rue Cambon apartment and the whole embroidery universe of the spring 2023 haute couture collection is turned towards the animal world.

All outfits from Chanel haute couture collection.

Senior editor: Serene Seow; art director: Chern Ling; senior producer: Jialin Lindsay; photography: Reuben Foong; fashion direction: Joshua Cheung; videography: Alycia Chong; set design: Shilin Lim; art assistance: Arthur Nauer, Elton Low and Germaine Ng; fashion assistance: Kelly Hsu; makeup: Peter Khor using Chanel Beauty; hair by Colin Yeoh and Dorene Low/Tress & Curvy using Hair + Lab; models Kaci Beh/Basic Models and Zi Qi/Mannequin

Source: CNA/bt