Chanel stages cruise on roof-top of Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse

The weather felt like Scotland, while the mood was very cool at the latest Chanel cruise runway show inspired by Le Corbusier and presented Thursday in Marseille.

“We began in the nursery and we ended up in one too,” smiled Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard, standing post-show in a kids play school on the roof of this remarkable building.

Le Corbusier once described his most famous structure as a “factory for living” It’s an epoch-defining building designed like an ocean liner with most of the activities on the middle of the third and fourth floors. With a play-school and pool on the rooftop, with its iconic undulating ventilation chimneys. A beguiling space offering 360 degree views over the city.

A perfect place for a cruise collection, even on a wild blustery day, where seagulls visibly had difficulty even staying in the air.

Viard was riffing on naive, childlike squiggly drawings in charming chemises, blouses and skilful embroidery in the opening looks of this show.

Le Corbusier’s ideas were evoked all the way through this collection. Where the young cast braved the elements, and the rain gods mercifully halted the downpour during the 20-minute show. Even if the wind literally blew quilted Chanel bags off their shoulders.

A collection that celebrated the erratic pattern graphics of Corbu’s building — balconies, sunscreens and lobby windows appearing in classic-with-a-twist black and white bouclé suits or diagrammatic printed dresses.

Adding a sense of humor, with designs that culled the images on packaging of entre deux guerres Marseille and Provencal soaps. Call it savon chic.

Ending with a great series of cocktails and capes with the childlike squiggle patterns and in a color palette of white, ecru and cream. Recalling that this building was one of the first made in pale concrete, finished in pine patterns.

Backed up by Jean-Michel Jarre’s classic track Oxygene, the show earned prolonged applause, as much for the cast’s esprit de corps as for the coolest of the clothes.

Most people when they think of French architecture think of Versailles, Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower. But if you ask any French person in fashion most of them would describe Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse as France’s most important work of architecture in the 20th century.

“I’ve always been a huge admirer of Le Corbusier. Aren’t most people? But what I like about this building is that it’s not a museum, it’s a living vibrant community,” noted Viard, after embracing Charlotte Casiraghi backstage.

Pre-show, guests could visit the famed apartment building, completed in 1952 to provide housing to Marsellais whose homes had been destroyed in WW2 Allied bombing.

Though still largely composed of private co-op apartments, the Cité Radieuse also boasts a mid-century modern hotel; art book store; fine art galleries; exhibition space of Purple magazine; and mini retrospective of Viard’s favorite indie filmmaker Agnes Varda, whose still photography and offbeat short movie about imaging the interior life of family of seven unknowns she shot on the root top of this apartment building. Mixed in with photos of fishermen, tiny ports and rocky calanque bays, which give the region its unique topographical feel.

The Paris fashion marque even opened up its owned Radio Chanel, with programs broadcast live before and after its two runway shows. Where the ambassadorial likes of Lily Rose Depp and Caroline de Maigret discussed all things Coco and Viard. Later joining Charlotte Casiraghi in the front row.

The whole week was very much a dialogue between Chanel and Marseille, France’s grittiest city whose mean backstreets recall the chase scenes in French Connection 2.

Like La Galerie du 19M, where Marseille-based and other artists interchanged with métiers art suppliers owned by the greater Chanel group.

Viard also hooked up with Ladj Ly, winner of the 2019 Jury Prize in Cannes for Les Misérables. Ly directed a specially commissioned dance film choreographed by (La)Horde, that featured dancers from the Ballet National de Marseille, exploring the emblematic sites of this Phoenician City, from the Vieux Port to the Cité Radieuse.

Though ultimately, the collection was all about taking the Chanel DNA on a new voyage. Spinning its codes – the classic suit, double C, pearls, bouclé tweed – in a different, younger manner. Corbu, and Coco, would have understood.

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