Gone were the Instagram-ready and, let's admit it, a tad gimmicky circus-like sets of seasons past. For autumn/winter 2016, Chanel went back to basics, to focus on its DNA, its true essence – namely haute couture. Karl Lagerfeld recreated the couture salon at 31 Rue Cambon in the vast expanse of the Grand Palais and offered a series of looks – a whopping 93 – that represented the bread and butter of Chanel: tweed suits, little black dresses and fabulous knitwear, which all came, as always, accessorised to the hilt.
The only gimmick this time – and a welcome one – was a cute homage to Lagerfeld's own celebrity cat, Choupette, whose likeness appeared in prints and accessories peppered throughout the show.
Like in the golden age of haute couture, every guest sat front row in proper gold chairs – no benches this time – to admire a low-key collection that distilled the core of Chanel but never looked vintage: skirt suits came in colors such as shocking pink, orange and fuchsia; Chanel's signature quilted pattern appeared in oversized nylon coats and leather jackets; little black dresses, while worn with the strands of pearls so beloved by the founder of the house, were never too precious or prim; and three oversize raincoats - four if we count the one worn by male model Brad Kroenig - seemed to reflect the influence of utilitarian fashion that is, unfortunately, all the rage in Paris this season – thank you, Vetements.
It was a wise decision for Chanel to look to its iconic heritage and celebrate the craft of couture. Although we can already picture a few street-style stars carrying those thread roll-shaped minaudieres - featuring golden thread, bien sûr - this was ultimately a collection of no-nonsense clothes that will fly off the shelves once it hits stores six months from now, and not next week. Burberry and Tom Ford's "see now, buy now" wouldn't work for impeccably made clothes like these. High-quality and beautiful fashion – as we should all keep in mind in a season of so much upheaval – does take time.
Poetry in motion – Valentino's Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli looked to performance art, chiefly dance and music, for a collection that juxtaposed punk and elegance; John Cage and Merce Cunningham; the Russian ballet and the New York art happenings of the '50s.
Delicate tutus worn with studded leather jackets and combat boots were some of the best looks – not to mention the pleated dresses and skirts that draped fluidly over the body.
Everything was embroidered, studded and embellished but the decorations never overpowered the elongated silhouettes of the gowns and the flawless cut of the tailored pieces, which this season included lots of covetable outerwear in black and an army-green fur-lined parka.
What's happening on the streets is having a great influence in fashion right now, but it takes a deft hand to translate that into covetable pieces that don't just look like reworked items of army-surplus clothes. Chiuri and Piccioli are clearly attuned to what's going on out there, but it's their relentless focus on beauty and their conviction that fashion shouldn't be too cynical that makes them stand out season after season.