Modesty Matters: Chanel Looks to Coco’s Childhood for Spring 2020 Couture

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Legend and lore surround the life of Mademoiselle Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. She preferred to keep her mysteries to herself. One thing we do know is that after her mother died, her father deposited her and her sisters at the Cistercian abbey of Aubazine, an orphanage overseen by a superfluity of nuns.

Raised with puritanical rigor and taught to sew – first by repairing nun’s habits – Chanel’s early days provided the origin story of her house’s famous little black dress. But she also freed women from the rigidity of the corset, designed her sophisticated collections in men’s jersey fabrics, and brought ease and simplicity to French fashion. What had its origins in austerity later gave way to insouciance.

For Spring 2020 Couture, Chanel’s Creative Director Virginie Viard paid a visit to Aubazine, where she succumbed to the charm of its unkempt cloister gardens and atmospheric peace. It is there that the idea for the Spring 2020 Couture collection took shape, which brought Aubazine’s gardens indoors at the Grand Palais and put the Chanel girl in ascetic monochrome bouclé designs reminiscent of a boarder’s uniform.

Chanel Spring 2020 Couture
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

The tweed uniforms that started the show were on the somber side, but a closer look yielded beautifully embellished collars, tulle overlays that added dimension to the skirts, jeweled buttons, and other couture accents. Long silhouettes appeared, the best of which came as pure white coats embossed with flowers. 

For Spring 2020 Couture, Chanel’s show was rooted in nostalgia, plucking a chapter from Mademoiselle Chanel’s life that had yet to be investigated on the fashion stage.

Although nearly every inch of skin was covered up thanks to opaque tights, Gigi Hadid’s high-slit Mother Superior dress, sheer nightgowns, and stained glass suits suggested a departure from the sterner stuff. These gave way to lighter and more ephemeral pieces, elegantly embellished with sparkling paillettes, intricate beadwork, pleated accents, and a flou of soft, tiered layers. 

While Viard’s predecessor – the inimitable Karl Lagerfeld – was perpetually obsessed with the future, he also circumscribed his collections with references to Mademoiselle Chanel and her origin story. His work married the past and present, with consideration of how these epochs apply to the wardrobe of the modern woman. For Spring 2020 Couture, Chanel’s show was rooted in nostalgia, plucking a chapter from Mademoiselle Chanel’s life that had yet to be investigated on the fashion stage. But in looking back at this very specific and somewhat niche source, the desire for this type of couture clothes in 2020 becomes less obvious.

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