It was a Chanel Haute Couture collection that was as finely engineered by Karl Lagerfeld and the skilled petites mains of the house’s legendary workrooms as the giant model of the Eiffel Tower that rose above the sand-and-gravel runway into a dry ice–misted sky in the highest reaches of the dome of the Grand Palais.
“I’m feeling very out of it,” confided a jet-lagged Katy Perry. “I wasn’t sure if they’d chopped down the Eiffel Tower for Karl!”
The city of Paris may not have gone that far, but after the show, the audience remained seated as Anne Hidalgo, the city’s dynamic mayor, did the next best thing and presented Karl with its highest honor, the Médaille Grand Vermeil de la Ville.
“To say that I was impressed is too weak a word,” said Hidalgo in her stirring presentation. “Your imagination is boundless, and your ability to transport us into a different universe. You are a universal person,” she added, “but you are also someone who makes Paris more beautiful and more creative. You are a Parisian.”
“I am a foreigner,” said Karl, pointedly, “and strangers see things through different eyes, with a detachment. Vive la France!” he added, “and above all, Vive Paris!”
It was a touching moment, for in many ways, this “foreigner” has defined Parisian fashion from the birth of its dynamic ready-to-wear to the hautest of haute couture since he won a prize in the 1954 International Wool Secretariat, alongside an equally youthful Yves Saint Laurent. Karl subsequently went to apprentice with the theatrically-minded couture designer Pierre Balmain before becoming the couturier chez Jean Patou. From the early ’60s through the ’90s (as a current exhibit of Guy Bourdin’s images for Chloé in that brand’s newly opened Maison Chloé reveals), Karl made a profound impact on the city’s ready-to-wear identity in his work for that house.
The front row buzz at the Chanel collection was generated by an Amazon army of glamorous performers, all sporting the new peroxide crop: Cara Delevingne, Tilda Swinton, Katy Perry, and Kristen Stewart. Notable too were the doting, Chanel-clad mothers with their young daughters dressed to match. Couture, as Karl was about to show them all, has no limits.
Karl’s collection showcased the skills of the Chanel ateliers and the amazing craftspeople—the feather-makers, the embroiderers, the boot makers, the pleaters, et al.—whose work brings his pulsing imagination and expressionist sketches to life.
The emphatic coats (belling to the ankle or sheared above the knee) that opened the show fit through the body like second skins and erupted into great arcing shoulders above and bell-shaped skirts below—masterpieces of construction. The skinny-bodied jackets over lean skirts to the lower calf gave the girls the look of the dashing demimondaine in a pre–World War I Lartigue photograph. The Chanel canotier hats—so like the ones that Coco herself wore in just that period to defy the fussy creations then in fashion—were made from matching tweed (and worn with every look, including the pneumatic wedding dress), and the heels of the patent leather ankle boots were half clear Lucite so that it looked as though the girls were daintily tiptoeing down the runway. The classic Chanel braid trims were replicated in froths of feathers in colors plucked from the flecked tweeds. Feathery aigrettes sprouted from shoulders, chemise dresses were frosted with subtly beaded Deco motifs, and great swathes of stiff faille and satin were draped and manipulated so that they looked like a river’s liquid eddies.
Tilda Swinton summed up these skilled craftspeople’s contributions best. “It’s doing something that is both ancient and deeply rooted in the traditions of Mademoiselle Chanel,” she told me, “and rooted in the street. It’s a shame for those who only ever see the photos—or even sit at the show—but never have a chance to see the pieces up close.”
The sketch for the penultimate dress—the Eiffel Tower–silhouette ballgown of tiers of pleated black tulle edged with giant feathery rosettes—was handed to the workroom a mere two weeks ago. “If you turn back the feathers,” Swinton explained, “the backing of each is Eiffel Tower–shaped. Only the woman who wearing the dress would ever know that—or someone very close to her! That’s what I’m moved by, really,” she added, “and Chanel really engages with that.”
Source: Vogue.com Photos: Vogue.com