Taraji P. Henson was thrilled to be attending her first-ever show during a Paris fashion week, and the fact that it was Chanel haute couture was undeniably icing on the cake.
“My stylist, Jason [Rembert], tells me I own more Chanel than any client he knows, but I also feel very grateful,” said the Oscar-nominated actress and producer. “I’m an artist, so I live for things like this. I’m always interested in the person who does the work.”
Chanel’s July 5 haute-couture presentation at L’Étrier de Paris, the equestrian center on the outskirts of the city, proved to be a perfect venue for Henson to observe first-hand fashion’s ultimate handcraft. The venue’s layout was limited to three rows in any direction, thus offering an up-close look to an audience laden with A-listers — Henson was joined by Leslie Mann, Sigourney Weaver and Clémence Poésy at the morning presentation, while Keira Knightley, Marion Cotillard, Lucy Boynton and Maggie Gyllenhaal attended the noon show.
From an emphasis on bouclé tweeds and jeweled buttons that descended seductively down the backs of black chiffon gowns to lace cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats, artistic director Virginie Viard’s latest collection was wide-ranging. The collection also focused on tailoring — much to the delight of Rembert, who was seated directly behind Henson and also boasts Mary J. Blige, Issa Rae and Lizzo among his clients.
“As a celebrity stylist, we tend to lean on tailoring for looks that work for real life and not just on a model’s body,” he explained. “I watch a show like this thinking about the Emmys or [film festivals in] Venice or Toronto, and these are silhouettes that will work on a talent’s body. Virginie really leaned in on her strong suits, like tailoring, but also fabrications and embroideries. I also loved the jeweled buttons going down the back of the garments. To me it’s one of the best collections I’ve seen in a long time.”
Viard cited a variety of references for this season’s haute-couture clothes, from an Inès de la Fressange image from 1988 to Fred Astaire and Annie Oakley, which comes the closest to explaining both the cowboy boots and hats that stopped short of feeling like the Wild West. They were also the top-two details mentioned by front-row stars. “I thought they were just brilliant, and I loved being transported into that far west kind of world, said Poésy. “There was also a timelessness and freedom about the clothes — you felt like you could move in them and feel quite liberated, and of course, that’s what [Coco Chanel] did, isn’t it.”
The collection balanced a mix of tweed with chiffon in silhouettes that ranged from full-skirted suits to languid sheer gowns with a bit of a mermaid-skirt kick (the better for mastering those Astaire dance moves). Graphic prints are also key, from a houndstooth on steroids to a floor-length dress with a frill of black and white stripes around the shoulders, a look that also seemed to exude Viard’s confidence because it felt like a modern update of something Mademoiselle Chanel might have designed in the 1930s.
“It was jaw-droppingly beautiful,” Mann said of the collection. “I feel like I could wear every single outfit; The mixture of fabrics, silks with sequins, and, of course, the cowboy boots with the big hats. It was inspiring, but it also just felt fun, and we all could use a little fun in our lives right now.”
Sigourney Weaver — who often attends Chanel shows with her friend, costume designer Catherine Leterrier, whose work includes 2009’s Coco Before Chanel — agreed. “I just think it’s so exciting right now to see the excellence; when I come to a French fashion show, I feel like I’m coming into the heart of France,” she said. “Fashion is such a celebration of life — the art of living, a love of life — and I’m always inspired by it.”
With Leterrier seated nearby, Weaver noted that while she does enjoy witnessing the handcraft up close and personal, more practical elements may soon supersede. “I typically don’t come as a person buying or looking for outfits, though I do have five things coming out soon,” said the actress, whose upcoming projects include October’s Call Jane and December’s highly anticipated Avatar: The Way of Water. “I should be looking for outfits, but I’ll think about that later. Right now I find this simply inspiring.”