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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

Chanel: Karl Lagerfeld's film noir

Chanel’s Métiers d'Art "Paris in Rome 2015/16" show was the complex story of Cinecittà and the Rome of Marcello Mastroianni

3 Декабря 2015

Karl Lagerfeld and Suzy reading  - the first hint of what will happen at Cinecittà in Rome
Karl Lagerfeld and Suzy reading - the first hint of what will happen at Cinecittà in Rome
Surrounded by Chanel's romantic cliché of a Parisian street — all bakers, cheesemakers and cafés, Princess Caroline of Monaco summed up in a few heartfelt words the evocative black-and-white movie set at Rome's Cinecittà studios.

In Karl’s gloved hand a pearl of a shoe with ribs of pearls on a sandal boot
In Karl’s gloved hand a pearl of a shoe with ribs of pearls on a sandal boot

"In the current circumstances, it was rather touching," she said.

Indeed. This was Karl Lagerfeld's ode to Paris and the French film connection with Rome, dreamt up long before the tragic events of last month in the French capital. "I don't think there has ever been a time when France and Italy have been closer," said Karl, referring to the Cinecittà post-war period. "But I didn't know when we started the idea of Paris in Rome that it would be the best moment to show a perfect, romantic Paris - when in reality it is the opposite."

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A giant-check tweed reefer jacket covered with Cellophane mesh and worn over an off-white and ivory tweed dress and lace tights

A giant-check tweed reefer jacket covered with Cellophane mesh and worn over an off-white and ivory tweed dress and lace tights

Chanel’s nostalgic set of Paris in the happy old days

Chanel’s nostalgic set of Paris in the happy old days


Karl was inspired by French actresses who were dressed by Chanel in Italian movies. They included Anouk Aimée, Jeanne Moreau and Delphine Seyrig - although it is unlikely that the glamorous international clients gathered for the event would have even heard of these stars of a Parisian past. The strange thing about this Chanel Métiers d'Art collection, designed to celebrate couture craftsmanship, is that it seemed plunged in nostalgia.

Chanel’s Métiers d’Art - a celebration of art and handiwork, shown this year in Rome
Chanel’s Métiers d’Art - a celebration of art and handiwork, shown this year in Rome

Unusually for Lagerfeld, a designer who embraces the future, the clothes were built on threads of the past from hefty tweed trousers, which Karl called Palazzo Pyjamas, to black lace trickling down body and legs into two-tone mules with pearl heels. 

Anna Dello Russo, left , with a look from the show
Anna Dello Russo, left , with a look from the show

The sexual side of the show included short "oh là là!" skirts and the sensual lace. But that too seemed, however appealing to clients, to belong to a please-your-man past. The massacre in Paris turned this collection, already wistfully , into film noir. There was so much black, the French badge of elegance. And such a post-war feeling to the knitted sweaters (in fact marvels of stitch craft), the cape shoulders and long, pleated skirts.

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At a fitting, where one can appreciate the intricacy of the creations

At a fitting, where one can appreciate the intricacy of the creations

The hair and make-up test

The hair and make-up test

"Une Nuit A Paris" poster


Even the set itself, so brilliantly conceived and executed, was an uncomfortable reminder of a cloistered Parisian world. There were no Moroccan restaurants, no Middle Eastern bakeries, no multicultural waiters. Nor anything but Franco-Italian glam to the models, who came on to the runway out of a Parisian metro entrance.

At the end of the show, the boutiques, restaurants and cafés turned into a party
At the end of the show, the boutiques, restaurants and cafés turned into a party

Removing all these complex issues, how were the clothes? Wistfully polite, extraordinarily produced and occasionally a hit. As ever at Chanel, the accessories were exceptional, especially the bootees made from strands of pearls and those polite two tone mules which turned to reveal a snake twisted around a pearl on the heel.

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Film noir at Rome’s Cinecittà, the epicentre of Italian film and Chanel’s Paris in Rome 2015/16 collection, dreamt up by Karl Lagerfeld

Film noir at Rome’s Cinecittà, the epicentre of Italian film and Chanel’s Paris in Rome 2015/16 collection, dreamt up by Karl Lagerfeld

A photograph of actress Jeanne Moreau on set with Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni

A photograph of actress Jeanne Moreau on set with Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni


A new square bag and the lacy hose looked like instant success stories. But within the complex storyline of Cinecittà and the Rome of Marcello Mastroianni and , the beating heart of the Metiers d'Arts collection was lost.

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Mariacarla Bocsono - the elegance of Paris, the glamour of Italy - at Chanel in Rome

Mariacarla Bocsono - the elegance of Paris, the glamour of Italy - at Chanel in Rome

At the fitting one can admire the depth of craftsmanship, which is hard to grasp on the runway

At the fitting one can admire the depth of craftsmanship, which is hard to grasp on the runway


These annual shows are supposed to be a celebration of the different decorative arts, from feather-makers to knitting wizards. Chanel has invested in these skill sets and placed the hand-workers in a dedicated modern building in Paris. Because I was fortunate enough to be invited by Karl to the show preparations in Rome, I understood the depth of craftsmanship which was hard to grasp on the runway.

The Cinecittà Studios in Rome, the location for Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show
The Cinecittà Studios in Rome, the location for Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show

I touched a top patterned in the kind of black-and-white marble you find in Roman churches. It was, unbelievably, made of marble-printed feathers. How might Chanel have made its craftsmanship more visible to the audience? Ironically, the answer might have been to film the clothes to show the details.

A view of Rome
A view of Rome

But that opportunity was lost in a mini movie, directed by Karl, featuring Kristen Stewart as an argumentative young Coco and Geraldine Chaplin as a bad-tempered older Chanel.

A detail of the set
A detail of the set

I would have preferred to see Coco when she had a home in Rome's Via Giulia and a vision of her Italy conjured up by Karl. He knows the city so well after 87 trips to the eternal city during 50 years working for Fendi.

Roberta Altavilla  poses beside the entrance where models with their smoky gazes came out, one by one, onto the set which was the Rome station of Paris’ Metro line 5
Roberta Altavilla poses beside the entrance where models with their smoky gazes came out, one by one, onto the set which was the Rome station of Paris’ Metro line 5

Somewhere in this Chanel presentation there was a powerful story about German-born Karl's insider-outsider tale of two cities. But it was never quite realised in black and white.


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