Karl Lagerfeld stood behind the bar at Brasserie Gabrielle taking questions after the Chanel show. Easy to identify, with his powdered white ponytail and dressed in his inimitable black and white, he could hardly be mistaken for a mere waiter. More like the uber-chic proprietor of the establishment – which, in a sense he is – both of the Grand Palais, which he transforms on a six-monthly basis, this time into the largest brasserie in Paris, and as the visionary behind Chanel, the world’s most audacious luxury goods brand.
He said he came up with the idea six months previously, on the day of his last ready-to-wear collection, when he turned the Grand Palais into a street for a feminist demonstration – ‘These things take ages, a long time to build, huh?’ And, as always, every conceivable detail had been conjured to make you feel as if it were real. From the revolving brasserie doors, through which the models entered, the banquettes and reserved tables where Chanel’s most faithful customers sat, to the large bars operated by real waiters – so authentically Parisian, it was impossible to get any of their attention to order a coffee and croissant before the show began.
A state of reality was the entire point, said Mr Lagerfeld: ‘Real clothes for real women. I like to put clothes in a context of where they are supposed to live. For the rest, I have couture, I have Métiers d’Art,’ he explained of the other Chanel lines for which he often conjures more dreamy fantasies. ‘But this is really what I would love to see someone wearing for dinner, lunch or breakfast… But not ladies who lunch, huh? That’s another era,’ dismissed Mr Lagerfeld, declaring he never had time for lunch.
The clothes were just as fixed in a state of reality – not that a Chanel-manufactured brasserie populated by the world’s most beautiful women wearing thousands of pounds worth of atelier-crafted clothes could possibly be considered real life for one nanosecond. But the clothes were deeply convincing – no matter the setting – from the beautiful classic tweeds in a zillion coat/suit combinations full of exquisite detail such as sleeves quilted and stitched with miniscule bows, to the mosaic-tiled skirts that wrapped over trousers – ‘a new way to make an evening skirt you can sit down in’ – and the parkas covered in translucent embroideries – ‘because nobody wears evening coats any more, you have to take things that people can identify with and put them on another level, another price and another material and another circumstance,’ declared Mr Lagerfeld.
The shoes were just as important, he said, in delivering a kind of classic, believable wearability. They took the form of an easy run-around with a low block heel and were worn by every single model. It was a style that Karl had rediscovered in the house archives and had had remodelled, he said: ‘Everything else, the stiletto, the heavy shoe, it all looked so dated and suddenly I thought this was it.’
While last season Karl’s women’s lib demo transmitted a sartorial statement of freedom of expression, was this brasserie collection intended to be more bourgeois, harking back to a time when ladies had time to lunch? Not at all, said he, ‘They are liberated, they are free and they have the money to pay for their own lunch!’