Vogue Scandinavia steps inside Chanel's atelier to learn more about the intricate craftsmanship behind the Haute Couture 2023 collection – and to get a rare glimpse at the work in progress
Entering the atelier of a designer is an intimate experience. Serving as a home away from home, it is a bustling space where the creative director's vision comes to life, only limited by his or her imagination. As such, it was only fitting that Gabrielle Chanel's iconic apartment at 31 Rue Cambon serve as inspiration for the Maison's spring/summer 2023 Haute Couture collection.
It is the place where creative director Virginie Viard first took Xavier Veilhan – the artist behind the unique set design for the show – at the very beginning of their collaboration. An almost mythical place, the apartment holds an impressive collection of objects, sculptures, and drawings calling on nature. Lions, does, stags, birds and camels are all present within its walls. “For his third participation, I asked him to reinterpret the apartment's bestiary and incorporate his own,” says Viard. “The whole embroidery universe of the collection is turned towards the animal world.”
31 Rue Cambon was also where we got our first look at the collection. In a teaser released on 24th January, we see model Vivienne Rohner entering Chanel's emblematic home with its Art Deco mirrored staircase. In the salon, Rohner opens one of the founder's books and is instantly plunged into the artist's imagination, populated by horses and puppies. “Puppies are the ultimate symbol of tenderness,” says Xavier Veilhan. “I want these images to provoke an immediate attachment, something that goes straight to the heart.”
On the apartment's sofa or on the steps of the staircase, Vivienne Rohner provides a first glimpse of the collection's silhouettes: a tweed coat-dress and a skirt embellished with tassels, worn with black loafers; a jacket and mini-shorts in blue tweed with hints of bronze accessorised with white gloves and lace-up boots; a jacket with a corgi embroidered plastron and a white tweed dress with gold stripes, both worn with top hats; a fully sequinned flounced dress in smocked silk tulle and a white lace dress visible beneath a transparent apron embroidered with a golden stag's head and a black bow tie completing the look.
Speaking to the team at Chanel, we learn that the Maison's Haute Couture is based on three main pillars: Virginie Viard's Creation studio, the ateliers that produce each design, and the Maisons d'art: the embroiderers, feather workers, paruriers, glove-makers, hatters, shoe-makers, goldsmiths) in charge of the embellishments and accessories.
The ateliers ensure the perfect execution of each creation whilst in permanent contact with the creative studio. In parallel with this work, the Métiers d'art, carry out the intricate craftsmanship required for Chanel's delicate embellishments. The quintessence of which helps express the exceptional savoir-faire of the French Maison's couture creations.
Looping back to the collection and show at hand, this season Chanel's suit borrows its codes from female parade uniforms, the expressive silhouettes sourced from the petticoats of Majorettes or the tuxedo tails of a circus ringmaster – a fitting role for the models to play as they weave between, and even emerge from, eleven monumental animal sculptures made of wood, cardboard and paper.
"For a model to come out of a gigantic animal, there has to be a contrast. I’m aware of balances and imbalances," says Viard. "That's why all the models that come out of Xavier Veilhan's animals are wearing short skirts and in white. The two proposals form a good counterbalance.“
Embroidered on short tweed suits and coat dresses are the kittens, corgis, rabbits and swallows share the limelight with camellias, so emblematic of the House. This fauna is also present in the smallest details, such as the buttons where we can spot ladybirds, butterflies, and hermit crabs to name a few.
And as in every beautiful story, the Spring-Summer 2023 Haute Couture collection, ends its fairy parade with a Chanel bride. Sporting a short silhouette (she did emerge from one of the animals, after all) the deceptively simple look was in fact the most time-consuming of all.
Embroidered with swallows it took 1255 hours to hand stitch the veil alone, and and additional 805 for the dress. It consist of more than 250 embroidered swallows, spanning six different shapes and sizes. In total, 205 500 sequins, 3000 pearls and 96 000 cuvettes were used, with 300 of them folded by hand to create the beak of the birds. If that is not a Haute Couture version of a fairytale ending, we don't know what is.
Below, click through the 52 looks to fully immerse yourself in Chanel's incredible savoir-faire.