The Cannes Film Festival has kicked off and one outfit that has caught the attention of red carpet watchers is a sleeveless catsuit that American actress/director Brie Larson, who is one of this year’s jury members, wore to the photo call on May 16. Irreverent, playful and definitely unpredictable by Cannes’ sartorial standards, the look features an all-over red, pink and white hand-painted floral motif that one can easily mistake for tiny sequins. The origin of the look? Chanel Spring/Summer 2023 Haute Couture collection.
Brie Larson, a member of the Cannes Film Festival jury this year, is pulling out plenty of Chanel looks for her appearance at the event. This includes this catsuit from the Spring/Summer 2023 Haute Couture collection which she wore for a photo call on May 16.
While bags and ready-to-wear may be synonymous with the house of double Cs, haute couture lies at the heart of the maison. After all, Chanel is the longest-running couture house in existence today. That legacy began when Gabrielle Chanel opened a couture salon in Biarritz – an idyllic coastal town located in southwestern France along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean – five years after her start in fashion as a milliner. From her outpost in Biarritz, Chanel created one-of-a-kind looks for her upmarket and cosmopolitan clientele. It was only after the mademoiselle’s death in 1971, that the brand started producing garments off-the-rack.
But what exactly is couture? To loan a term thrown around by Gen Zers a lot today, couture is the French high art of clothesmaking that is fiercely gatekeeped. To be a legitimate couture house, one has to abide by a set of strict rules that are defined by a charter. The title of a couture house is conferred by the country’s Ministry of Industry – which does so on the advice of the industry’s governing body, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
The Chanel Haute Couture atelier and studio operate from the house’s iconcic 31 Rue Cambon building.
To make the cut, a brand has to check off a long list of criteria that sets it apart from an ordinary fashion house. For one, all couture creations are made-to-order and have to be handmade in the ateliers or design workshops of the brand. The ateliers must be manned by a minimum of 20 workers and a brand has to present its designs twice a year during the Haute Couture Fashion Week calendar, with a minimum of 25 looks that span outfits for day and night. (For the record, Chanel’s couture studio produced 51 looks for its Spring/Summer 2023 collection.)
Today, there are officially 17 certified couture houses that cater to the needs of an elite club that news reports have estimated to number around 4,000 members worldwide. At Chanel, clients who order couture designs have their own personalised Stockman mannequin constructed to the exact measurements of their body. If they place orders for couture footwear that’s exclusively crafted by Massaro – one of the around 40 artisan workshops that Chanel owns – then a custom shoe last will also be made. On average, custom couture orders at the maison can take between two and three months to be completed, depending on the intricacy and complexity of the designs.
The set at the Spring/Summer 2023 Haute Couture show with animal installations built by artist Xavier Veilhan.
While couture may be steeped in tradition and rules, Chanel’s interpretation of it is forward-thinking and current. From the beginning of the mademoiselle’s business in Biarritz to today under artistic director Virginie Viard, a modern P.O.V. permeates through the designs. Gabrielle Chanel, for instance, was a fan of jersey, a material that was previously used to make men’s underwear. Viard sings the same tune, preferring to show a kind of carefree elegance and a more casual spirit with her designs.
Viard’s vision for couture was laid out for the regional press recently in Singapore during a private viewing of the Spring/Summer 2023 collection at the 19th-century mansion on Keppel Hill that Chanel restored especially for the occasion. Taking references from the menagerie of animal paraphernalia and motifs found in the Mademoiselle’s apartment, the embroidery in the collection featured animals like kittens, corgis, rabbits and swallows.
A selection of looks from Chanel’s 51-look Spring/Summer 2023 Haute Couture collection were presented in Singapore recently for a private showcase.
She also took cues from the uniforms of majorettes in festive parades with the shorts, pleated skirts and tailed jackets. The youthful quality of the collection comes in the form of micro skirts and the layering of gauzy maxi dresses over shorts. Top hats made by the atelier Maison Michel and golden ankle boots crafted by Massaro inject a sense of fun into the outing.
First presented in Paris in January, that show saw Viard roping in her regular collaborator, the French artist Xavier Veilhan, who created 11 bestiary-themed installations of giant creatures made of wood, cardboard and paper in the shape of animals such as an elephant, horse and owl that were rolled onto the show’s arena. These large-scale sculptures turned into modern-day Trojan horses when models started walking out of them. As a nod to Veilhan’s masterpieces, the presentation in Singapore saw clothes being hung on similar wood and cardboard racks with wheels.
Another special friend of the house also made an appearance during the Singapore presentation. Her name: Amanda Sanchez. Best known for being Chanel’s fit model and runway model since 2001, Sanchez is a real-life mannequin who provides the body on which all of Viard’s creations are fitted on and test driven. More recently, Sanchez has added a new role to her resume – that of haute couture ambassadress. The Brazilian native is primed for the role since she has the advantage of seeing every piece that walks the runway come to life.
Sanchez appeared wearing Look 1 from the collection – a majorette-inspired tweed coat dress with ruffles peeking out of the hemline. “Virginie made sure she only wanted to see a few centimetres of the fabric peeking out from underneath the skirt,” said Sanchez who changed into four looks during the two-hour session. “From afar the skirt looks like it’s made of feathers but when you look at it closer, it’s actually tulle pleated by Lognon and tassels embroidery by Lemarie.”
Flirty high hemlines, bowties, and boots are some of the touches that give the Chanel Spring/Summer 2023 Haute Couture collection a jolt of youthfulness.
Throughout our presentation, Sanchez emphasised how Viard wants to see clothes come “alive” on the wearer. For instance, the tweeds are fine and come with light interlining to facilitate ease of movement. “She wants to see the comfort,” says Sanchez. That point was made in the final look that the model stepped out in: a short bridal dress embellished with white georgette crepe flounces that come with a silk tulle veil entirely embroidered with hand-folded sequin swallows by Montex. Devoid of frou frou and stuffiness, it was a fresh of breath air.