Margot Robbie Sat Front Row at Chanel's Elegant Haute Couture Show

Margot Robbie at the Chanel fall-winter 2019 haute couture show in Paris.

Marion Cotillard and Isabelle Huppert were also in the audience for Virginie Viard’s solo debut, which paid tribute to Karl Lagerfeld while moving the luxury brand forward.

The late Karl Lagerfeld loved his books – in 2015 he noted that he had collected upwards of 300,000 – so it was no accident that on Tuesday morning at the Grand Palais, guests of Chanel’s fall-winter 2019 haute couture collection did not encounter an overtly fantastical setting on par with those conjured in seasons past. This latest show wasn’t centered on an iceberg or a rocket ship or a gargantuan golden lion; instead, it was a library, circular in design and fashioned with an upper-tier catwalk similar to one Lagerfeld had built in his home. And the number of books? It’s a sure bet that the quantity planned was also no coincidence.

If a library is all about an innate tranquility, a place to explore and think amid mandated peace and quiet, then that setting seemed right for the debut of Virginie Viard’s first collection for Chanel without Lagerfeld, who passed away on Feb. 19. The library setting wasn’t merely a tribute to the luxury house’s longtime creative director, it also was a signal that this show would not embrace the grandeur of past efforts. With few exceptions, quiet understatement ruled the day, starting with the high-wattage stars on the front row, including Isabelle Huppert and Isabelle Adjani, while Marion Cotillard seemed downright casual in her Chanel T-shirt and cropped pants in rouge leather. Margot Robbie, meanwhile, slipped in unobtrusively to sit next to Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, and only courtesy of Twitter did word spread that the actress was celebrating her 29th birthday. 

Expectations were only positive for this collection, with clients and editors alike lining up to support Viard’s herculean task, to conceptualize a Chanel haute couture collection without the direction of the man she had worked with for more than three decades. Did she succeed? In a word, yes. The codes of Chanel were clearly in evidence, as were the influences Lagerfeld has injected in recent seasons, from the roundness of a shoulder on a bouclé tweed jacket to the modernized proportions created by playing with where a waistline sits or how an abbreviated jacket pairs with a skirt sculpted with subtle volume. The collection also felt new and elegant and, as it should be, a way forward. 

The show kicked off with floor-length coats in bouclé tweed, including a stunner of a double-breasted tuxedo in black, before Viard showed her hand with a pair of suits in magenta and bright tangerine. These bursts of color occurred throughout the show, notably in a sherbet-toned suit sported by Kaia Gerber, with a flurry of white three-dimensional flowers traveling across the shoulders, and on purple sequined camellias that served as the straps and neckline of a black tweed gown with multiple colors subtly woven throughout. 

The nods to Lagerfeld extended beyond the show setting, from the ponytails adorning most models’ hair to the starched white cuffs that accented many looks. One black velvet dress included not only those cuffs, but also a white shirtfront, finished with a black bow (Lagerfeld’s trademark long tie would have been far too literal). Among the surprises in this collection: a play on volume courtesy of billowing ankle-length skirts, each tightly belted, and several evening looks in silk charmeuse or chiffon, a bit more elegantly simple than the confections seen in recent Chanel collections. That said, most pieces looked tailor-made for upcoming red carpets. Viard also offered up a few takes on lounging pajamas, pairing easy satin trousers with belted silk kimonos. While the idea may not have been seen recently from Lagerfeld, it’s easy to imagine Coco Chanel loving the look. 

And indeed, a woman once again is overseeing the house of Chanel. Viard did not send out the traditional bride for the finale, perhaps her statement that the modern Chanel woman doesn’t need a grand white gown to feel complete. Instead, she stepped out for a quick bow, greeting thunderous applause and an ovation. Ultimately it will always be a truism that Lagerfeld influenced the iconic French brand as much as the woman who founded it. On Tuesday morning, Viard paid tribute to them both, while also beginning to make her own way, in elegant fashion.