The runway was a wooden boardwalk snaking the length of the massive Grand Palais, over a layer if smoking volcanic ash and rock (dry ice, silly, not real molten rock - but it did look very convincing). The walls were decorated with the skeletal outlines of wintery trees. The scene set for the Chanel Winter 2011 collection was dark and bleak and forbidding.
Was it a comment on the times we live in? It was hard not to draw a parallel between the lugubrious setting and the daily headlines of political upheaval and economic downturn.
Just as we were all getting a tad depressed (a Chanel show is where we come to escape after all), there was a light. At either end of the vast space, a drawbridge with the huge double C logo was lowered to reveal a bright shining light from which the models emerged.
First impressions were that they were dressed for battle: rounded shoulders and envelopping layers, the storm cloud colour palette and sturdy flat shoes all alluded to a situation where comfort and protection were paramount.
A lean four pocket jacket in black and white Chanel tweed was layered over a black blazer and wide mannish pants tucked into ribbed legwarmers scrunched around the ankle above mannish brorgues. A cropped bottle green jacket was similarly layered over a tailored black jacket that acted almost like a transition piece between the feminine upper body and mannish pant below.
A skinny brocade legging looked distressed from a distance (particularly as it was tucked into flat boots) but on closer examination was actually brocade and had more of a dandy flare, especially as it was styled with a thigh length tweedy cape.
The tough dandy theme continued as an undercurrent bubbling through the gritty theme with frill collared shirts under broad lapelled jackets and trousers with rolled satin cuffs. It’s because of bold statements like these that Chanel manages to work its fashion alchemy while lesser brands struggle to survive.
Karl Lagerfeld’s re-working of the smoking jacket in embroidered wool with its wide pant over a low heeled shoe was instantly covetable. The easy wool and lace all-in-ones were glamorous siren suits for our time. And the evening wear caught images of the leaves from those bare trees on the organza bibs of long demure dresses.
Oh and by the way, get ready for a run on the new chunky chain handled bags.
Only Karl could make a fabulous fashion statement out of a crisis.
- Paul Reed in Paris