“There is a time for prettiness: when the world is becoming too ugly,” said Karl Lagerfeld after his Chanel show, which was decorated with trellises of pink roses and ponds flowing with rivulets and fountains of water.
“But it is meant to be ‘French’ pretty,” Karl explained. “I am not a French man and it is better that a stranger makes something very French because it doesn’t look patriotic – it is just the French aesthetic,” the designer said backstage, after the ritual ending of the bridal dress, with the designer’s godson Hudson strewing roses from a basket on to the model’s pathway.
Was this a Versailles moment?
It is Karl Lagerfeld’s ineffable skill at Chanel to make references so subtle that they are like a passing cloud. And, at the same time, to present the dense and extraordinary work of the Chanel ateliers as if it were a light breeze. The only constants were the boots, also pretty, often pink and lacy, yet bringing the models literally down to earth as they walked what might have been garden paths at Versailles.
It was a profoundly French collection, especially after the recent Chanel show in Hamburg, when Karl went back to his personal family roots for the first time and the scene was rough and sea tossed.
This Paris show was also typically Chanel Haute Couture, meaning that nothing was quite what it appeared at first glance across the garden set.
The “Coco tweed” that inevitably opened the show was a myriad of hand-woven stitches, in sweet colours, with dresses, tops, and skirts rather than the predictable suits. With roses caught in mesh at the top of the head and interspersions of silken satin cutting into the front of a skirt, there was something youthful and cheeky about what can sometimes seem a heavy dose of Mademoiselle Chanel. Coats, flaring gently at the mid-calf hemline, were not only a subtle introduction but also a reminder that this Haute Couture season is supposed to provide customers with a Spring 2018 wardrobe.
A white chiffon shirt and long skirt splashed with painterly colors was the moment when the Chanel wardrobe moved from day to white nights, as the clothes left behind the blush-pink suits and graceful dresses. Stronger colors came like artistic traces – a pink satin ribbon here, a bevy of embroidered flowers there, and an occasional splatter of color.
What stopped the collection from being a look back to a sweeter, gentler age? The boyish pieces, such as a lacy all-in-one; or a pants suit with the trouser legs chopped off like a page boy’s at the knee. The comparatively few ankle-length dresses meant that those pretty embroidered boots could be made for walking.
But more than the exquisite clothes, Karl caught a fashion moment of gentility and sophistication in a churning world – without making the show seem like a homage to the past. It is a skill to marvel at – and one that seems to be present each season – as the designer captures intuitively “l’air du temps”, meaning the way the fashion spirit is blowing.
“It’s a romantic mood, not only based on ruffles,” the Karl said. “It’s modern romance. I never thought that I wanted to do a romantic collection – it just ended up like this.”