Chanel Haute Couture: In the Forest of Karl’s Imagination

‘Why the garden?’ I asked backstage after the show. The set, resplendent with great Holm Oaks and Scots Pines that almost reached the glass roof of the Grand Palais, was magical in its simplicity with its wooden boardwalk and sand on the ground. ‘It’s not a garden,’ snapped back Karl, ‘It’s a forest.’ The idea came from one of his dreams – as so many of his ideas for collections do – ‘some German, neo-classic things in a romantic forest,’ he sort of clarified.

But then he said he wanted to forget about dreams – ‘There’s a down-to-earth part to every collection; you have to do the job. Dressmaking is a job! Of course it is something that we can dream about, but people have to make these clothes too, huh?’ He went on to say that one of the printed, embroidered dresses that we had just seen in the show took 2000 hours to make. ‘I don’t know how they do it,’ he exclaimed of the Chanel workforce in the atelier, ‘How they have the patience! How they can survive!’

It is an extraordinary thing to witness a Chanel couture show. Over 60 models parade before you in clothes that, this season, started out apparently simple – a natty new twist on Chanel’s little skirt suits and dresses in winter white with drop shoulder necklines, scooped away to reveal modern-medieval armour beneath in the form of high-necked silver or gold pieces, matching fingerless gauntlets à la Karl and thigh-high boots with open-toes – not the most practical footwear for that sandy floor, but still the quintessence of money-no-object couture.

Lagerfeld then moved into this week’s chief trend – seen everywhere from Dior to Giambattista Valli – with floral arrangements scattered liberally in sequin formations, as delicate blooms bursting over weightless ball dresses, creeping up floor-length gowns – embroidered, printed, feathered, crystalled – and finally reaching the crescendo of two pure white twin brides in their artfully ‘tattered’ and frayed to within an inch of their lives dresses – modern, yes, but full of heritage, romance and pure unbridled femininity – the big watch word this couture season.

Asked why he used two brides for this collection, Lagerfeld cackled: ‘The child told the story!’ referring to the young boy, also dressed in white, who appeared with his ‘mothers’.

And will the Chanel clients be happy to wear these clothes? You bet. ‘Of course, they are easy to wear; so light. Weightless,’ he said, ‘I hate clothes that are stiff or heavy, I’m very much against that; heavy couture is for the stage. There are many, I don’t name names, who use workers who make costumes and I can tell you, it shows.

’Chanel is on a different level? ‘It’s a real couture house with 200 workers. And when people like Pierre Berge (Yves Saint Laurent’s business partner) said that couture was dead? Err, I’m sorry to tell him that it survives very well, thank you, with a new clientele who buy!’ Lagerfeld took an unexpected pause for breath. ‘In the past, rich women bought five dresses. These new women, in five minutes, they buy 30!’

Vive La Couture. Long live Chanel Couture. Long live Karl.

 
 
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