On an interminably humid Singaporean morning, French fashion house Chanel whisked select members of the fashion press, influencers and VIP clients of the house to the leafy surrounds of Keppel Hill. The occasion? A stately showing of its spring/summer 2023 collection—the first-ever presentation of its kind in the Lion City.
Traditionally, top clients and the fashion press have flown to Paris to see the twice-yearly showings—once in January for spring/summer, and again in July for fall/winter—so to have the collection physically present in a small city such as ours is no mean feat. To put it into context, the closest thing that the house has put on in Singapore was their cruise 2013/14 show, back in 2013.
Over 50 looks were flown in from the house’s ateliers at Rue Cambon, packed individually in acid-free tissue paper before being placed in steel-reinforced wooden boxes, some of which were also on display at the couture presentation. Only a handful of looks were left behind in Paris due to the delicacy of their construction, or they were required for red carpet fittings.
In the world of fashion, there’s nothing more rarefied than haute couture. Loosely translated, the term means “high dressmaking” but those two words belie the amount of blood, sweat and tears that go into the art form. To see the collection up close, in person, was to pay testament to the imagination and craftsmanship of a house that has been turning out haute couture creations since its inception.
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The collection was an homage to the magical menagerie of animals in the Chanel constellation—think: horses, cats, dogs (the inclusion of collaborator Xavier Veilhan’s beloved corgi was a delightful anachronism), rabbits, and swallows, but also deer, bees, lions, elephants, herons and more—sometimes featuring singly, and in one breathtaking instance, all together on the bodice of a dress that was inspired by Mademoiselle Chanel’s beloved coromandel screens in her apartment.
Chanel’s codes were reinvigorated for a modern couture client—tweed jackets in delicious colour combinations, flaring ever so slightly at the hip, paired with miniskirts (to better show off the legs, of course) and shorts (!); ladylike dresses in lace and tweed with a strict, strict line, belted at the waist for a hint of a silhouette; and seemingly simple double-faced coats that boasted almost no visible stitches, a technical mastery that only the most accomplished petite mains could pull off, we were assured.
As a special surprise, Chanel house ambassador, fit model and Lagerfeld (and now Virginie Viard) confidante Amanda Sanchez was also flown in for the occasion, parading several looks from the collection and sharing insider anecdotes about Viard’s thought process.
For instance, donning an ankle-length tweed dress in pretty lilac, Sanchez shared that the creative director would ask her to walk, sit and move around in pieces to make sure that comfort was the top priority when wearing the creation. Personally, I think if you’re one of 200 select clients paying somewhere in the range of a small country’s GDP for a rarefied piece of wearable art made according to your exact measurements, comfort would, of course, be paramount.
But sparkling insights aside, the expertise of Chanel’s formidable métiers—Massaro (shoes), Lesage (embroidery), Maison Michel (hats and headwear), to name a few—were the true stars of the collection, their work shining through the designs and giving that special couture touch to pieces that only its owner would know and appreciate.
My favourite example would be the (not-so-humble) buttons, crafted by costume jewellery and accessory maker Desrues. “You will never find a CC logo button on a couture piece,” declared the house’s representative, who was walking us through the collection. “Couture pieces only have jewel buttons.” It’s the meticulous attention to details and craft that elevate haute couture to the art form that it is, and why it continues to hold exalted position in the realm of fashion.