Chanel channels Stella Tennant’s chic androgyny in Paris tribute

In a filmed catwalk show at Paris fashion week, Chanel has paid tribute to Stella Tennant, the British supermodel who was a muse and model of the house for several decades before her sudden death in December.

A monochrome tweed kilt worn over woollen leggings, and bright Fair Isle-style knits teamed with Oxford bag trousers and flat shoes, were among several looks that took inspiration from the elegantly androgynous chic of Tennant, a catwalk star who was most at home in the Scottish countryside.

“Today some of these silhouettes make me think of Stella Tennant’s allure; the way she wore certain pieces, it was so Chanel,” said the designer Virginie Viard before the show.

Filmed while the city languishes under a strict night-time curfew, the show also paid homage to nightclubbing. The low-lit corridors of Castel club, the left-bank haunt of Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy, which is to Paris what Annabels in Mayfair is to London, stood in for a catwalk. Models tossed their tweed overcoats in the tiny box cloakroom, chandelier earrings brushing as they squeezed past one another on the narrow staircases.

Viard “wanted something warm, lively … I imagined the models doing a show for themselves, going from room to room,” she said. Also on her mood board was the stylised nocturnal glamour of Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s 1985 music video for Bryan Ferry’s Slave to Love.

Viard, who took over from her longtime boss Karl Lagerfeld two years ago, has steered Chanel from his high-table whimsy to a look grounded in what stylish women wear on the streets of Paris and London.

Generation Z’s preference for ankle-length coats rather than knee-length ones, for loose jeans and cross-body bags rather than dresses and clutches, and for beanies not berets, were all reflected here.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, said in a Zoom call after filming: “I find the models are always a good indicator, and backstage this season the models wanted to take everything home – that’s always the best news. Virginie has the vision to deliver exactly the right silhouette.”

As well as nightclubbing, Viard is missing skiing – specifically, après-ski, and “the ambience of ski holidays”. So there were jazzy salopettes in quilted white satin or embroidered fuchsia tweed, with 1980s-style snap-closure ruched-leather belts and shaggy moonboots, and sweaters with the numbers five and 22, for Chanel’s iconic perfumes, emblazoned in the style of team numbers. Knitwear, Pavlovsky noted, had been one of the best-performing categories during a challenging period for luxury retail.

Pavlovsky remains confident that Chanel will host a live audience at their next catwalk show, due to be staged in a picturesque village of quarried limestone in Provence, southern France, on 4 May. “We are working on two options – one with a limited audience, one without an audience – but I am optimistic. It won’t be back to normal, but I am hopeful that there will be guests, which would be fantastic.”

Indeed, Chanel intended to return to staging “as many shows as before, if not more” after the pandemic, Pavlovsky said. “I think we will see a strong energy in fashion when we come out of this. People will be more daring than before. My guess is that people will be happy to participate, to socialise, to enjoy each other’s company. I am not sure that anyone can take pleasure in only watching videos.”

Forty of Chanel’s 200 boutiques worldwide are currently closed, but losses in Europe are being offset by a “huge comeback” in Asia.

Chanel, which owns the Scottish cashmere manufacturer Barrie Knitwear, has been working to resolve operational problems caused by Brexit. “The UK has always been important to Chanel, we are connected in production and also in culture,” Pavlovsky said. “I hope we will see an improvement in the coming months.”