PARIS — Few Chanel customers have probably ever ventured to the industrial fringes of the 19th Arrondissement in the northeast of Paris. But on Dec. 7, they found themselves blinking in the frigid December fog at Place Skanderberg, just outside the Périphérique ring road, waiting for the brand’s annual Métiers d’Art show to begin.
Delivered by a fleet of Mercedeses, dressed to the nines in bouclé and draped in pearls, many were wearing necklaces from which dangled a small pair of gold scissors. They had come with the invitation: part nod to the founder Gabrielle Chanel’s habit of wearing scissors on a ribbon round her neck, part peace offering for clients who grumbled at having to travel 30 minutes from the center of Paris.
The reason: Le19M, the site of the show and the new home of the 11 specialist couture workshops that Chanel began acquiring in 1985. An imposing triangular-shaped building of roughly 275,000 square feet designed by the French architect Rudy Ricciotti, Le19M is filled with gold, feathers, sequins, rhinestones, silk, cashmere, leather and 600 artisans, busy spinning raw materials into magic, all of which were showcased on the catwalk.
First, however, there was a tour of the workshops, led in part by Blanca Li, the Spanish choreographer. “Without amour we would not have the métiers,” Ms. Li noted, by way of introduction to Maison Lesage, the embroidery specialist, turning on her white patent heels.
Later, Inès de La Fressange, the former face of Chanel, appeared, on-brand in a black bouclé Chanel jacket with gold chain trim on the pockets and a fashionable 15 minutes behind schedule.
Covid-19 protocols (two shows limited to 300 people each; guests asked to take a P.C.R. or antigen test within 24 hours of the show, to wear masks and to prove their vaccination status) weren’t the only potential pall over the show. There was also the recent advent-calendar-related social media storm.
Still, Vanessa Paradis was there, catching up with Sofia Coppola. The singer Sébastien Tellier talked with the up-and-coming French-Romanian actor Anamaria Vartolomei. And Pharrell Williams chatted with Charlotte Casiraghi.
At 2 degrees Celsius, it was too cold for Champagne. Instead, mugs of hot mint tea from Mariages Frère, the upmarket French tea company, were handed around as guests mingled in the tree-lined courtyard under outdoor heaters while Virginie Viard, Chanel’s creative director, took a preshow cigarette break with some of the models. Pounced on by a tense producer, she responded: “No stress! I’m a professional.”
A low-key one at that. Gone were the 18th-century Salzburg palaces, the New York museums, the 15th-century Scottish castles, of the Métiers shows under the late designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Instead the show was held in a long glass-walled gallery with polished concrete floors and concrete benches overlooking the courtyard. Models streamed in from the central courtyard, pausing at the automatic glass doors before heading down the catwalk.
The drama came courtesy of the decoration, loaded up, 1980s style: no button left un-bejeweled, no waist missing a Chanel logo belt, no ear without a chandelier, no neck without ropes of necklaces dripping in pearls, Byzantine pendants and Coco-related charms.
House-signature bouclé jackets were relaxed in fit, cut long to graze either the knee or the ankle. A black tweed bomber jacket with ribbed-knit cuffs was embroidered with the Chanel logo in a graffiti-style font, picked out in tiny pearls and vibrant, rainbow-hued rhinestones. A jacket partly obscured by a giant fluffy cardigan looked to be made out of metallic glass shards, until you took a closer look and realized it was embroidered with graphic sprays of sequins. Oh, and there was a pale blue pair of elastic-waisted acid-washed jeans with a little ruffle at the hem.
Cardigans were the star of the show, rendered slouchy and paired with densely worked, sequin-encrusted minidresses and tweed skirt suits. Chanel’s logo was everywhere: hand-stitched on knitwear, engraved on multistrand necklaces, dangling from chain belts, traced in diamanté and draped over cuffs, and embossed on pearl-trimmed Mary Janes.
The looks lightened up toward the end, in the form of a sheer black tulle skirt dotted with feathers and pearls and paired with a slim black cardigan, and a languid dress with a black-and-white bouclé top souped up with just a touch of crystals at the waist and cuffs. That was around the time the platinum-haired Korean American model Soo Joo swapped the catwalk for a concrete platform, the better to serenade the crowd as Ether, her musical alter ego.
A dinner was planned for the evening at the Montparnasse brasserie La Coupole, once a favorite of Man Ray and Josephine Baker, but there would be no after-party. This week, France closed all nightclubs for four weeks, in response to the new Omicron variant. With hibernation on the cards, suddenly couture-level cardigans seemed a whole lot more apropos.