What perfect timing! Not the departures and arrivals board at “Chanel Airlines”, but the fact that Karl Lagerfeld had chosen an airport theme just as labour strife at Air France sent images around the world of its executives with clothes torn to shreds by angry workers.
There could be no greater contrast than the strikes and delays of chaotic modern air travel with the Grand Palais in Paris, transformed into the airport of dreams: no queues for check-in, and where uniformed staff greeted model passengers dressed smartly in tailored clothes. Hunky pilots pushed their wheely bags, while the passengers followed the same route, in their flat silvered and transparent plastic boots. There were no double-C logos in the opening session, where airline “staff” wore colourful checked pants and skirt-suits that you have never seen on stewardesses in the aisle. They were followed by in-your-dreams travellers as sleek and chic as could be.
“It’s against sloppiness in travel; I do it like it should be — Chanel airlines is Private Jet for everyone,” Karl said.
“It’s just the shape,” he continued, referring to the clothes. “No braid, no ribbon, no camellia, no jewellery — yet it looks Chanel. No idea is also an idea.”
No ideas! But the collection was riddled with them, so that the eyes moved in bemusement, as if following the swerves of airplanes coming into land: eyes up to trim caps, turned backwards; then to a matching weave patterned suit; down to the silvered shoes and the “Coco Carrier” as Chanel is calling its wheely bag. Buttons looked like crescent moons, eyes were covered in reflective glasses, and a sweater was intarsia knitted with red, white and blue aeroplanes.
By the time Karl took a bow by picking up model Cara Delevingne from one of the benches in the “departure lounge” (blissfully almost empty), along with Karl’s godson Hudson Kroenig, age 7, the fashion voyage seemed as long as the foot travel from check-in to boarding.
What was the real impression of the clothes as the models walked around this vast air hub, where a digital departure board marked the global travel of previous Chanel Cruise and Métier's d'Art shows, from Seoul to Salzburg?
The clothes looked “grown up”, which is a polite way of saying some of the severe tailoring seemed matronly. Others were so layered with pattern, as dresses were draped over pants, that it was hard to understand whether it was a take on more exotic airline uniforms or a way of mixing different pieces.
Just when the show seemed as chaotic as navigating passport control, Lagerfeld brought in denim outfits — tailored, immaculate and some of the most convincing examples of city slick that we have seen this spring-summer 2016 fashion season.
The only problem with this entertaining and apposite Chanel presentation is that it told only half the story. I had the opportunity to visit the Chanel studio and see a few pieces close up. Every supposition I made about fabric and construction was way off. A tweedy material turned out to be hand woven; the red white and blue edging to a classic suit had started with the familiar hand-woven braid, but was then photographed, printed on plastic and then that digitised creation was used on the clothes. To use the fashion vernacular of the moment: insane!
I wondered whether the audience might have been sent a Dropbox link that showed the craftsmanship that Chanel has been so willing and eager to preserve in its Métiers d'Art studios? That would be something fascinating for fashionistas to see, while waiting for their grounded plane to take off.