Wearing couture is a privilege that only a select few get to experience in life. The actress Vanessa Paradis, one of the legends of French cinema, has experienced it not once, but numerous times in her career. This privilege was most recently bestowed upon her at the 46th Deauville American Film Festival last September, where she served as both the jury president as well as the recipient of the Distinction Numérique from the National Audiovisual Institute. Eschewing the traditional or obvious options, Paradis chose to wear not a dress, but a Chanel jumpsuit in black Mikado silk with a belt, straps and embroidered bows that came from the brand’s fall/winter ’20/21 haute couture collection.
Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard may not have designed the particular piece specifically for Paradis, but it seems that she had her in mind when fitting it on the models for the initial presentation. “From the first fitting on the model, I instantly said to myself, ‘That is Vanessa!’. I could see her body moving in it. Haute couture isn’t easy to wear, but Vanessa does it wonderfully. This outfit is sexy while being understated, and Vanessa likes to look sexy, provided it’s in the right place. On stage, she moves very naturally, even in clothes that could appear complicated. This look suits her perfectly,” says Viard.
Having worked with Viard over some time, Paradis also has developed an appreciation for the work that the former has done as the brand’s artistic director, taking over from the late Karl Lagerfeld. “Even though Karl always created for all women, for all generations, and we all dreamt of wearing his designs, I remember seeing Virginie’s first collection and feeling that here was a woman dressing women and who enjoyed doing so. Perhaps in the choice of fabrics there are things that Chanel might not have dared before,” says Paradis. She recalls a bright yellow and black dress in the collection as something particularly new. “Obviously there’s still the house of Chanel codes, but now there’s something more that makes it very anchored in the here and now and that resonates with a wider audience. The energy and the attitude of the girls is cool and fresh, just like Virginie,” she says.
Photographs by Leïla Smara for Chanel.
From the inital construction on a mannequin to the final fitting, each haute couture piece is perfectly tailored to fit the wearer, and may take several fittings to attain.
Paradis understands the impact of wearing couture, especially on one of the rare red carpets that went ahead in a pandemic climate. “It was the perfect opportunity! You need an exceptional event to wear haute couture. And this was definitely the case, not only because it’s a very prestigious festival but also because it’s one of the few that actually happened in this very unusual year. Wearing an haute couture outfit, making people dream and dreaming myself, it really was obvious,” says Paradis. She also felt a distinct difference between wearing haute couture pieces as compared to regular pieces. “I believe that you have to love and respect haute couture in order to wear it. When I put on an haute couture garment, I instantly think of the hundreds of hours it took several people to make one single outfit. It’s so meticulous, delicate... I’m not saying that we don’t respect clothes from other collections, but these pieces are like wearable works of art, and it’s so impressive that you can’t help but pay more attention,” says Paradis.
On her unexpected choice of a jumpsuit, Paradis felt that the piece encapsulated so many different aspects. “This outfit is extraordinary because there’s so much going on. It has character. With its tails, it makes me think of a pianist as they sit down on their stool. The trousers have a flare that instantly made me think of David Bowie, who only ever wore extraordinary stage outfits. It’s like a tuxedo and a very feminine dress at the same time, it’s modest but also revealing with its bare back... I feel like I’ve never seen an outfit like this before,” says Paradis. She also found the neutrality of the outfit both attractive and apt for the times. “I think it’s extremely original and multi-gender. It’s made for women, for men, it’s really reflective of our era. Our era at a very chic party,” she says.
Photograph by Leïla Smara for Chanel.
On the red carpet of the Deauville American Film Festival, Paradis wears the finished product. The jumpsuit is composed of 6,500 embroidered elements while the neckline has a draped plastron effect. The kick flare trousers have godet panels and points that are short at the front, and long at the back, while the belt is embellished with an embroidered bow made of black organza.
Paradis has had many couture experiences, but one of the most memorable for her was a dress created by Lagerfeld, to whom she often played muse. “The first time I ever wore [couture] for an evening was at the Oscars in 2004 — a white dress with silver sequins and several layers of ruffles. That dress was so marvellous, I’d been to the show a few weeks before and chosen it then. It was so chic to wear a Chanel dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld to the Oscars, which is like a fashion show of dresses, each one more spectacular than the next — sometimes too spectacular in fact. But this one was so chic, so delicate, so French. I was very proud and very touched,” says Paradis. Her favourite couture piece however, was one that she wore for a photo shoot. “ [It was] a short dress, made up of pearl necklaces, from the Lion collection. It was really amazing, and I was wearing it for a photo shoot with Karl at the Petit Trianon in Versailles. He asked me to climb up on a statue in this dress that was like an actual piece of jewellery, it was completely mad,” she says.
Having visited the haute couture ateliers personally, Paradis also has a great respect for the craftmanship and love that is poured into each creation by the maisons d’art and the couturiers. “I’m in deep admiration of their work, their savoir-faire, their concentration, their perfectionism, and the respect they have for the designer, as well as the person who will ultimately wear the garment. They talk about the pieces they are working on as something very important, they are truly passionate, artisans in the real sense of the word.I absolutely love Loïc Prigent’s film “Signé Chanel,” that came out in 2005. It makes you fall in love with the whole team,” says Paradis.
As someone who understands the behind the scenes work that goes into each creation, work that often goes unnoticed, Paradis has a keen appreciation for this art. “People who watch the haute couture shows, or who go to a concert aren’t always aware of the work that’s gone into it. In the haute couture ateliers, there is so much delicacy, but also a lot of frank talking! The seamstresses are funny, real and extremely talented. I was very moved when I went to the ateliers and met the ladies who’d made my outfit,” says Paradis.
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