Well, it wasn’t for the first time I came over all emotional at a Chanel show. But this one will probably get filed in the memory banks of All Time Greats. There have been times, during this Paris fashion week, when new ideas or even some creative energy to make the heart skip a beat, seem thin on the ground. (And believe me, after four weeks on the road, and hundreds of collections, that buzz becomes all that matters.) But Karl Lagerfeld, the elder statesman of the fashion capital of the world, delivered more ideas and more energy than designers a fraction of his age, and managed to look fresh, even perky at the end of it, like the effort had cost him nothing,
The setting was the magnificent Grand Palais, a building created for a world expo back in the days when France led the world in aviation engineering. It’s so huge you’d be hard pressed to fill it with an air show, but Karl took the entire space over to lay out a formal garden laid out in black, built around three enormous fountains, bordered by trellises and carpeted with white gravel. A live orchestra played the soundtrack. So far, so good. The garden story has been a running theme through the collections starting with New York. But in none of the fashion capitals had we seen gardens to rival Versailles.
It took over 80 models to walk the 87 looks: including Stella Tennant and Freja Beha. Ines De Las Fressange, now the mother of a 17 and 11-year-old, closed the show making her first appearance for Chanel after an absence of more than 20 years.
And the clothes? It started with black and white but moved quickly into a softer palette of creams, baby blues, lemon yellows and all shades of pink. Black and white tweeds were distressed with holes chopped out of jackets worn over hole-punched skinny jeans in washed-out grey. A form-fitting ice blue tweed dress was trimmed with a deep hem full of ostrich feathers. A lemon yellow cocoon skirt got a bodice trimmed with soft focus black tulle. Metallic tweed jackets had principal boy swagger over lace shorts. Delicate short-sleeved lace shifts, nipped-in at the waist with simple A-line skirts were trimmed with tarnished gold and creamy ostrich. My favourite suit was a black and white A-line tweed jacket with three-quarter sleeves and an A-line skirt with yet more ostrich peeping out from under the hem of the jacket. That jacket also looked great over skinny pants.
The feather theme ran throughout with Carmen Kass almost stealing Ines De La Fressange’s moment in an undulating apricot feathered coat. Evening wear slipped back into more demure territory of black tulle and lace gowns that ranged from the faintly gothic with high collars that framed the face to girlish with full knee-length skirts.
What is clear in the avalanche of ideas is that the Chanel jacket, either as part of the classic suit or with jeans remains a central pillar of the wardrobe. It’s a one-piece wonder that is as easily dressed up as down; can be given a feminine or an edgy flourish. It is also the epitome of modern luxury given that you can choose to show off with it (going for all the buttons, logos, trimmings) or underplay with something much more subtle that will keep everyone guessing.
It was almost impossible to keep up as the ideas came tumbling out in an unstoppable torrent. With the challenges of new technology exercising lots of creative minds, this show felt completely in sync with the perplexing energy of the moment. How do we reconcile over-supply with exclusivity? Here was that question writ large on a runway that dazzled with ideas. Karl leaves the answer open to debate.
What is certain is that in a city and industry that has been grasping for the path to the future, you have to hand it to Mr Lagerfeld: he is completely fearless. It was a tour de force and a display of energy and life force that many half his age struggle to express.
- Paula Reed in Paris