A giant luminous white seascape: huge arc-ing whales, clam shells the size of dining tables, towering coral stacks, surreally large angel fish. We didn’t dream it. Karl Lagerfeld did – and built it inside the cavernous space of the Grand Palais where we sat, enclosed in what looked like an enormous shower curtain, on sparkling white sand dotted with glass ‘air bubbles’ for the SS 2012 Chanel show.
The models emerged from the mouth of a huge sea cave to strains of Mahler. Their hair was dotted with pearls and tiny half pearls ran in a line down their backs disappearing under the collars of jackets. The opening section of classic Chanel suits had a few of their own surprises: a softer shoulder (no pads), a wider sleeve (no cinch), and flat shoes! Flat shoes, people, flat shoes. The soft open necks of the jackets with their pearl button looked as easy as cardigans and the skirts with pockets worn with silver Beetle boots looked enviably relaxed as we scribbled to write all the details down.
Then just as we thought we’d seen it all, the clam shell opened and up popped Florence Welch, like a latter day Venus, in an organza layered gown to give live accompaniment from her upcoming album for the rest of the show.
From this point it could have gone horribly wrong. The undersea imagery could have been stretched to all kinds of Jacques Cousteau extremes. You will be glad to know there wasn’t a fish tale or a trident in sight. But iridescent sequins on A line shift dresses; organza petals on cocktail dresses layered like scales; embroidered net overlay on evening dresses studded with captured pearls; bags shaped like conch shells and millefeuille ribbons of organza that moved like an exotic anemone caught in a gentle current, carried the theme in an almost poetic way.
Some important styling details for those who want to channel some of that underwater Chanel right now: pearls just about everywhere except at the neck. I saw only one necklace and that turned out to be the neckline of a pearl camisole worn under a stingray biker jacket. But there were pearl belts, pearl buttons, pearl hair ornaments and bracelets. Apart from the shell clutches, bags were of ladylike proportions on hand held chain straps . And at no point did the heels rise above 35mm (and that was only for a conch shell-heeled evening shoe).
The crisp colour palette, relaxed silhouettes and girlish elegance made for a collection that made everyone feel like they’d had a refreshing dip after a sweltering week at the coalface of fashion.
- Paula Reed in Paris