There’s talking about Chanel haute couture. There’s seeing it from afar on Style.com (rest in peace…). There’s going to the shows, and being swept away by the set, the music and the magic of it up close in the showroom. Then there’s the ateliers, seeing the custom made forms of the couture clients and the work of the petite mains, who are not just mere hands at work but craftsmen and women characters alive and passionate about their task, be it in the workrooms of flou or tailleur. Then there’s the on-the-brink of demise, but eventually rescued and revived métiers d’art ateliers where you really feast your eyes at the surfaces of haute couture – the stuff that is bursting with statistics. The hours a piece of embroidery. The numbers of pailettes, crystals or feathers. The weight of a piece of cloth once embellished with sequins and bugle beads. The volume of a dress once engorged with ostrich fronds. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be privy all of the above.
How to top all of that? Hmmmm… oh I don’t know. A conversation that went something like this. Or at least that’s how I played it in my head when the idea was first being gestated.
Chanel peeps: Would you like to wear pieces from the collection for some photos?
Me: Errrrrrr…… yes? By wear, do you mean put on? Me? Non-sample sized me and my post partum mini-me?
Chanel peeps: Yes you and your mini-me. Choose your looks!
Me: Any look with a skirt that juts out sideways and takes up the width of a very wide double salon door with its awesome tulle gorgeness please.
Chanel peeps: Done!
In all seriousness, there’s talking about couture and then there’s wearing it. And it’s the wearing that takes my interaction with the at once intimate and intimidating world of Chanel haute couture to another level of familiarity. Of course it has to be said that the pieces I wore were samples. Prototypes if you will, that will then take on a further-refined, custom-fit and perhaps much-altered state once it reaches the body of a couture client. But the biggest takeaway from even just a brief encounter (an hour to be precise…) with these pieces was the instant headrush giddiness of being in such close proximity with this level of craft and effort. Like “Wheeeeeeeee! There’s THIS many sequins on me?” Or “How much volume of fabric am I swathed in right now?!”
But also the complete switch of context, from simply viewing an haute couture piece be it in a show or on a mannequin in a museum to seeing it as a living and breathing piece. For this specific Chanel Haute Couture S/S 18 collection, which originally promenaded in a very very French jardin, with its perpendicular hedges, ornate fountains and well-manicured lawns, I was keen on taking it into a very different sort of garden. A free-flowing one that’s a little on the wild side and overgrown in areas. Step in the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden, London’s oldest botanical garden with its 5,000 species of medicinal plants and an accompanying English drizzle as our backdrop to roughen up that French polish.
And whilst the original garden setting might have been a formal one, the weight of the dresses were own fact light. Even the seemingly “big” dropped waisted tiered tulle skirt number with its beaded elongated bodice and pannier-esque sideways skirt. It didn’t weigh heavy on the body and in fact, it had an aerated bounce to it – an whiff of 18th century court dress lightened for the present day. The flou of the collection had a lot of frou, exemplified by the ostrich feathered lace dress. This is surely the casual number to throw on when trudging through the muddy plant banks of a February day in London. There’s a reverse perception too of pieces that seem simple on the surface. The easier “day look” off-shoulder poppy printed chiffon in fact comprises of a lot of intricate Maison Lognon pleating (on my Métiers d’Art hit list fo sho) and layering of patterns o achieve an almost kaleidoscopic floral effect. And then how do you resist a bijoux minidress, wrapped and tied with a gathering of empire line tulle and pink satin bow. This is chocolate box Chanel, complete with a matching pair of embroidered Massaro ankle boots. They all traipsed and trailed through the Chelsea Physic Garden.
The next step of course is ,if I ever suddenly come into an enooooormous amount of wealth, a phone call to a Chanel vendeuse and lo, my very own Susie-shaped dress form in the atelier, would complete this slightly implausible haute couture journey. Of course that won’t be happening anytime soon. This little garden adventure with the smell of wet grass in the air might well be the zenith. Well, that’s just super fine by me. The fleeting encounter only emphasises the sheer height of all that haute.
Photographs by Roisin Murphy
Films by Joseph Wilson
Make-up by Victoria Bond
All dresses and shoes Chanel Haute Couture spring summer 2018 except for the lonesome pair of Shrimps x Converse. Because Chanel couture and Cons go together liiiiiiike…