The stalls were alive with the sound of Mozart; the Christmas market laden with Glühwein, gingerbread and glitter.
Salzburg, with its grey stone buildings and dark river, looked like the picture-postcard that Karl Lagerfeld had drawn as the Chanel invitation.
And at the Schloss Leopoldskron, the fashion fairy tale was played out as if in a painted landscape. In the foreground, Heidi figures with apron dresses and white blouses carried trays of sweetmeats. On the tables, autumnal fruits were piled high. And through the windows, light was reflected on the lake’s still water.
The effect was glorious — even before the first models in this year’s Paris-Salzburg Chanel Métiers d’Art show walked through the wood-panelled library to the great marble hall, rich with paintings.
No matter that the Chanel people admitted to coaxing the one-time palace back to life, taking the bare rooms, now used for seminars, and re-imagining the opulence and grandeur of the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Think of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Elizabeth, known as “Sissi” — a beauty who decorated her lustrous hair with a myriad of diamond and pearl stars.
Karl had left no precious stone unturned, from the music books of librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s words for Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier to the witty and wondrous decorations on the clothes.
Here was Cara Delevingne in a tiered white lace dress, poised between elegance and innocence — not to mention her appearance as Sissi – Pharrell Williams at her side, in Karl’s teaser video filmed for this event called Reincarnation.
And yet. There was something frustrating about this fantastic collection of handwork. For the audience — and even more so for on-line viewers – it looked like just another collection of good-looking clothes from Karl the Magnificent. Instead of being — as is intended — a showcase for the Métiers d’Art.
That is a reference to the craftsmen and women at the Paris workplace where Chanel has invested so much in people skills.
I was frustrated that there was so little information about how miniature edelweiss were made to sprout from tiny flat shoes or were embroidered on snow-white hose. I had no idea who was the creator of the foams of white lace at chests and wrists; or the haute knits with hand-woven flowers.
As I badgered the Chanel team for details, I discovered that a top patterned with butterflies had required 545 hours of work to create the feather embroideries and place 25,000 sequins. Another apparently simple embroidery mixed feathers, wooden flowers and beads.
I found on-line a mini video from Chanel showing magical hands at work. But I still wanted more. As we saw them on the runway, the embroidery could have been run up in a factory, not made with human skills.
I have decided to post a second story about the airy, modern studios on the outskirts of Paris where I watched the workers stitching the Lesage embroideries and moulding the felt hats, while the Lemarié feathers and flowers were coaxed into embellishments.
In due respect to Karl, even with precious little information, the show was aesthetically impressive — sharp when it came to the tailoring and sweet for the folklore-decorated dresses.
How much of himself did Karl put into this collection — especially in this case of a Germanic cultural background that is also his own?
When I asked him about the classic leather lederhosen transformed into cute, sexy shorts worn with thigh-high flower-embroidered socks he said:
“As a child, I was dressed like this — of course, this was not really what was worn in Hamburg, but I always liked to be different!”
I wish we could have seen a picture of little Karl dressed up like an Austrian princeling. But I did feel that he was deeply engaged in the romantic side of his native land and its neighbouring Salzburg and Tyrol.
Did Coco really get the inspiration for her famous Chanel jacket, as Karl claims, from a liftboy’s uniform she saw when travelling near Salzburg? One of the Chanel people mentioned the recent Wes Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I saw something of that movie in the Chanel tailored jackets.
The collection was labelled across the blogosphere as “pre-fall”, to fit in with other brand offerings. But I talked to Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, who said, as Karl did too, that the Metiers d’Art collections are much closer to couture. (I understood this to mean in cost as well as workmanship.)
“This is a real return to the work of hands — and it is the young who are really interested in going back to those skills,’’ said Pavlovsky.
I also spoke to Hubert Barrère of Lesage, who told me that this Salzburg collection was a “gift” because his Paris team of embroiderers had time to research the work of Mozart, von Hofmannsthal, the theatre, the summer festivals and Romy Schneider in the Sissi film from 1955.
I hope someone at Chanel is keeping a record of these 10 years of Metiers d’Art shows, which really are unique both in their craftsmanship and as an expression of Karl Lagerfeld’s imagination.
Wait for my next post which will explain how Chanel can create this mesmerising handwork, framed on the runway by the deep cultural knowledge of Karl.