Haute Couture A/W '11 Report: CHANEL

06 July 2011

There has been a lot of belly aching all week about the time of the Chanel Couture show. Why 10pm on a Tuesday night, when it’s normally a full 12 hours earlier? Issues like, should we have dinner before or after, were hotly debated. Fashion folk are oddly resistant to change.

But arriving at the Grand Palais the reason was obvious. Inside the vast space, a replica Place Vendome had been built, in the round, with the details of The Ritz, where Coco Chanel kept an apartment, picked out in neon. A replica of the column was erected on a glistening black stage looking like wet tarmac and at the top of it, the statue of Napoleon was replaced with a shining chrome effigy of Coco herself, in her signature suit and boater.

As the sun faded above the glass dome, the neon sparked up and we were transported to a fantasy version of one of the city’s most famous squares at night.

Key to the collection were two silhouettes. Think of a soft rounded shoulder, sitting wide of the body, balancing a nipped in waist which looked proportionately tiny against the swell of a curved peplum at the hips.  Countering that was a boxy hip length jacket and straight skirt. ‘It’s androgyny versus femininity,’ said Karl the night before the show at a fitting the Chanel studio. ‘One is an exaggerated feminine shape. The other is more boyish…..but not at all butch, mind,’ he warned.

No fear. There was no mistaking the girlish spirit that ran throughout, giving this brilliant show a kind of gaiety and lightness that nailed the craving for a new femininity that is coursing through the couture shows.

Each outfit was styled with feather trimmed boaters worn on the back of the head and low heeled sheer boots. They were a running theme with everything from the glistening navy embroidered suit (much like the one Chanel wore on top of that column) to the cocktail dress in white chiffon with whorls of accordion-pleated rosettes and sprigs of fluttering ostrich. ‘I love feathers, said Karl. ‘I love the way they soften a geometric line and lighten an edge.’

The evening dresses skimmed the body and flared out in a narrow A line from the knee. Apparently some of the models practiced their walk with elastic bands around their legs during rehearsals. Easier dresses were cut on the bias, with feathers appliqued on to tulle or scalloped loops of pearls on lace. ‘Easy as a t shirt,’ said Karl. Wish I had more t shirts like those.

There hasn’t been a better reason in a long time to stay up late and skip dinner.

- Paula Reed in Paris


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