A conservatory filled with spiky winter plants stretched upwards to the glass roof of the Grand Palais. Then, slowly, flower by digital flower, the paper petals opened into a hothouse of pinks, apricot, yellow – the same colours that flooded the opening outfits in the Chanel show.
Let’s call it haute tech — for has digital awareness and high fashion ever come together so spectacularly as in Karl Lagerfeld’s brainstorm for the summer Chanel couture collection?
Only after the last model, in a scarecrow-chic straw hat, an intensely decorated cropped top and airy skirt had walked the runway, followed by a bride with four gardeners clutching more of the spiky flowers, was Karl able to explain this computerised springtime miracle.
“You know, there are 300 engines under here,” he said, stamping his shoes on the icy-white sand. “And it took nearly a year to put it together after it came to me, pouf! In a flash.”
Any designer who can make flowers wing open their petals, and design a gardener’s watering can decorated with the Chanel double Cs, is a fashion wunderkind. And in this collection, both Lagerfeld himself and the Chanel studio reached a level of perfection which will hang like an exquisite perfume over their 32-year collaboration.
For these were real clothes à la Chanel, the famous tweeds recreated with embroidered hand stitching, and the familiar suits rejuvenated by slicing the jackets and the skirt tops to leave a patch of bare skin.
Seen that crop-top, belly button look before? Ah! But never like this, so delicate and light in floral or sorbet colours.
Anyway, as Karl said: “I don’t care if the clients order skirts up to the waist. This is couture, they choose what they like.”
But how to choose from this orgy of gorgeousness? Three Russian clients, each in a different silver-fox coat, were already feverishly discussing their choices. Even if I were just picking a hat, I would find it hard to decide between a little mohair-and-tulle beanie, perked up with pink, silver-grey and white flowers, or one of what Karl called the “cloud” hats: wide saucers of mesh, with, I swear, sticks of straw nestled inside.
The fact that the elaborations in the clothes, like an embroidery-weave suit with a fringe of loose threads from thigh to knee, were partnered with flat black booties as the only footwear, kept the show grounded.
As ever with Chanel, the clothes are wearable, fashionable and fit for purpose — meaning that it is simple for clients to find day and evening outfits to be the wardrobe focus in their privileged world.
I picked up on the lightness in construction of the faux-tweed suits, either with wafting, wide skirts or a longer, skinnier version. The embellishment was so dense — like a multi-coloured feathery cape worn over the head and shoulders — and yet another tribute to Chanel’s petites mains, or, hand workers.
But the real credit has to go to Karl Lagerfeld himself. He works as seamlessly as those seamstresses, stitching together old and new, and using Chanel’s long and noble tradition to make it relevant to our techno savvy, computerised, digitally enhanced world.