“I would like to see the world like this; no retro feeling, but the elegance of people who came for lunch in the 1920s and ‘30’s,” said Karl Lagerfeld, as he sat down at table in the refurbished Ritz Hotel in Paris to watch his own Chanel show.
With their white lace-up shoes, slim, cropped trousers and roses in their hair, some of the cute models were the offspring of the famous, including Lily-Rose Depp, Sistine Stallone, Sofia Richie, Alice Dellal and Georgia May Jagger.
Their presence gave the hotel’s winter garden, or jardin d’hiver, the lightest perfume of privilege and entitlement. Even Pharrell Williams, in a tweedy coat and loops of Chanel pearls, wore a gilded crown, while Korean superstar G-Dragon looked formal in black and white.
The intimacy of the models walking past the dining tables – or occasionally twirled around by well-groomed dancers in tailcoats – made the event seem like a sequence from an “I love Paris” movie. And Karl wanted it that way.
“A certain elegance in a dream place – the idea was to do something for Paris,” Karl explained, referring to the tinge of fear and notable lack of tourists after the 2015 terrorist attacks. He called the show “Paris Cosmopolite”, referencing the days when the cosmopolitan people who replaced café society joined the 1950s newly-minted jet-set – so very different from the global business travellers of today.
But then this Métiers d’Art collection, which celebrates the handwork of artists supported by Chanel, is different from those of other fashion companies. For Karl, it is his sixth show of the year – added to haute couture and ready-to-wear – and it is designed as a focus on, and celebration of, the unique qualities of the house.
And there lies the conundrum of this show. While special clients and famous figures were sitting cheek by jowl at the tables, marvelling at the smoked beetroot with aloe vera yoghurt and saffron sauce on fish decked out with artichokes, it was impossible to absorb the complexity of the workmanship in this light-hearted presentation.
The clothes flashed by at speed – timeless designs, prettily decorated, from a gilded formal dress with a peaking shoulder line to a checkered black and white coat worn over narrow trousers, as if its wearer were walking purposefully to the gym. These modern, active women might step out in a quilted puffer jacket or a knitted waistcoat over a sparkling dress. Compared to last year’s Métier d’Art show, which had a retro feel in its ode to Italian film making, the Ritz presentation was as rejuvenated as the hotel itself: classic but with a twist of modernity. Even the red-rose hair decoration, rather than the traditional Chanel camellia, looked new.
Karl told me that he had decided to sit at the dinner table for this third show of the day only because the previous ones had been so well-received. This last presentation was cheered as Karl took his bow with his 8-year-old godson and “company mascot” Hudson Kroenig, dressed in white tie and tails, before the celebration party.
It was a special fashion moment; one that celebrated craft and skills in a deep way in spite of the light-hearted presentation. But I felt that there was something missing in this show from Chanel’s Métiers d’Art, a term that is almost untranslatable. It was time for a close-up!
So I went backstage to look and touch the clothes, amazed to find that the flower-patterned tunic, spilling over at the neckline with a frilly white jabot, was woven in cashmere like a magic fashion carpet.
Even more astounding was the discovery that a casual denim coat was re-embroidered with denim, scissored thread-by-thread into a fringe as collar, sleeves and hemline. These clothes – worn so freshly and casually on the runway – were works of art!
Perhaps Karl is wise, with his deep knowledge of fashion and its presentation, not to hand out to the media and clients – as Valentino does – show notes with minute details of the making process and how many hours the hand-work has taken. That might have added a certain heaviness to a slender strapless sheath made of golden feathers, or the patterns that seemed to be woven to blend with those classic hotel carpets.
“The Ritz is very gilded – all white and gold,” Karl told me to explain the connection between the hotel where Coco Chanel herself lived (and died, in 1971), in her world of Coromandel screens and exotic furnishings, and the collection he was designing for women of today. In fact, the house of Chanel on rue Cambon is almost next door to the Ritz, and I can remember couture shows held there in the 1990s.
Surprisingly, Karl said that the Ritz had taken some convincing before they allowed “Coco”, the brand, to take over the hotel. “I told them, ‘You had the Hemingway Bar – it is time to celebrate Chanel.’”