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How Mademoiselle Chanel’s Formative Past Inspired CHANEL’s Spring 2020 Haute Couture Collection

After the death of her mother, a young Gabrielle Chanel was sent to live at an orphanage at the convent of Aubazine in Corrèze, where she was surrounded by motifs, poetry, and visuals that would stay with her throughout her storied career. From the school uniforms that inspired future silhouettes to the mosaics and stained-glass windows that laid the groundwork for the French house’s iconic monogram, Gabrielle’s time at the Aubazine fuelled her creativity and shaped her unparalleled aesthetic.

Chanel’s artistic director of fashion collections, Virginie Viard, further explored this formative period in Mademoiselle’s life while visiting La Pausa, Gabrielle Chanel’s Côte d’Azur retreat. Here, she noticed similarities to the orphanage, which led her to travel to Aubazine to experience its magic for herself. “What I immediately liked was that the cloister garden was uncultivated. It was really sunny. The place made me think of the summer—a breeze fragranced with flowers,” explains Viard, who became interested in the polarity of showcasing an haute couture collection against a modest backdrop.

Guided by Mademoiselle’s beloved Aubazine, Viard’s bold vision was realized in Chanel’s Spring 2020 Haute Couture presentation in Paris, which featured a pared-down yet idyllic mise- en-scène, complete with an overgrown cloister garden surrounded by linens on washing lines. With Chanel ambassadors such as Pharrell, Caroline de Maigret, and Anna Mouglalis—as well as friends of the house Eva Green, Clémence Poésy, and Taylor Russell—gathered inside the sun-soaked Grand Palais, there was an unshakable energy in the air, as if everyone in attendance was invited to experience a very intimate chapter in Mademoiselle’s life.

The 62-look collection started with silhouettes closer to the body and gradually moved toward ensembles of a refined, ethereal variety. Aubazine-inspired motifs were aplenty—school-inspired uniforms featuring pronounced bertha collars in shades of black, grey, and white, as well as meticulously crafted embroideries referencing the orphanage’s stained-glass windows and the cloister garden’s flowers.

Viard’s sophomore haute couture collection successfully paid homage to Chanel’s house codes, heritage, and, of course, its inimitable founder, all the while modernizing and reimagining haute couture’s place in the modern-day world.