Season in, season out, Chanel transforms the vast space under the glass dome of the Grand Palais into something of a surprise – a formal French garden, or a fjord.
But leave it to Karl Lagerfeld to surprise anew, this time by unveiling a hidden corner of this landmark building. For the pre-fall 2012 fashion show, known as the métiers d’art collection because it showcases the savoir faire of Chanel’s constellation of artisanal houses such as haute shoemaker Massaro, the embroiderer Lesage and costume jewelry maker Goossens, Lagerfeld took his intimate collection upstairs to the Galerie Courbé, the curved gallery along the roofline overlooking the Seine.
Lagerfeld’s point of departure: A banquet in Bombay, a notion he fleshed out literally and figuratively by seating guests behind sweeping curved banquet tables laden with multi-tiered platters of pale fruit, flowers, pastries and sweets – there was even a miniature train that traced the borders of the very, very long banquet table that ran down the middle of the runway. He even re-created in stucco the arched doorways found in traditional Indian architecture, conjuring a unique spin on East meets West.
The 78 outfits in the show crystallized the notion by trending toward long, loose and draped forms, such as tulip skirts, and tunics or achkan-like jackets worn with shimmery, slim leggings. Tweeds worked in jewel tones such as emerald and ruby were set against gold or bronze, and a series of body skimming ecru silhouettes trimmed lavishly with a Parisian rendition of traditional Indian jewelry, brooches and ropes (and ropes and more ropes) of chains and pearls. One standout coat flashed with a thick trim of embroidered mirrors.
Yet despite the extravagance of the context and the clothes, with all those shimmery layered silks, golden embroidery, and colourful flourishes – a fuchsia top with a bronze silk skirt, say – this collection never stepped over the line into folklore. Lagerfeld’s genius, as ever, lies in knowing how to pare back the details, hand-painting chrysanthemums onto silk or silver paisley cast across slim cropped trousers or picked out underneath scalloped tweed, to preserve the house’s Parisian identity while exploring an Indian accent.
Not surprisingly, the wittiest moments could be found in the details. Take the handbags: a 2.55 recast in the shape of a brick and trussed up like a package from the market, or a curved ‘quilted’ mirror clutch, or the wide, richly studded straps on a shoulder bag (worn by men and women, one might add). Or the shoes: universally flat, these ran from sandals to thigh-highs that looked less like boots than like leggings with integrated flats. Or the hairstyles by guru Sam McKnight, which grounded all that lavishness by leaning way more rasta than Raj.
Whether Lagerfeld’s take on head ornaments and nostril jewelry will make it into the haute salons of Paris, London and New York remains an open question. But in the meantime it gives us all plenty to dream about.
Watch Now: Chanel Pre-Fall 2011/2012 VIP Interviews
Watch Now: Chanel Pre-Fall 2011/2012 Interview with Karl Lagerfeld