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Karl Lagerfeld is staging Chanel’s latest Métiers d’art collection in Salzburg next week, and his accompanying film is alive with the sound of music.
It comes courtesy of Pharrell Williams, who composed an original ditty — “CC the World” — and sings it with Cara Delevingne, whose soulful voice proves as strong as her famous eyebrows.
This story first appeared in the November 24, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
More of a long video clip than a short film, “Reincarnation” reenacts a key episode in Gabrielle Chanel’s colorful life: While vacationing at an Austrian resort in 1954, the designer becomes enamored by the jacket worn by the hotel’s elevator operator, portrayed by Williams with his captivating, Sphinx-like gaze. That style, with contrasting trim and pockets, would go on to become the Chanel jacket, a fashion icon that has endured and whose identifiable features Chanel protects vigorously.
Having won raves for her interpretation of Chanel in “The Return” film that Lagerfeld made for his Paris-Dallas collection last year, actress Geraldine Chaplin reprises the role and delivers the film’s punch line with zeal.
Lagerfeld laced the fast-paced clip with humor, wit and historical allusions galore. Naturally, when Chanel requests her room key, it’s No. 5, and the “CC” reference in the song is a wink to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sisi.”
A reproduction of a Franz Xavier Winterhalter painting of Sisi lords over the lobby of the hotel, camellias dotting her abundant hair in lieu of the diamond-and-pearl star ornaments for which she became famous. (Lagerfeld noted that the Viennese company that made them for Sisi in 1860 is still in business.)
Without revealing too much of the plot, let’s just say that the painting and another of Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, come to life in a dream, and Delevingne and Williams bust some fine moves as the reincarnated imperial couple.
“There’s a touch of Pop Art in it,” Lagerfeld said in an interview in Paris last week, when he made final tweaks and color corrections to the seven-minute film. “It’s not meant to be a historical reconstruction or something heavy like that. This is light and funny.”
The period set, meant to evoke an Austrian hunting lodge with its antler furniture, was constructed in Luc Besson’s Paris studios, and the cast of more than 60 extras includes Chanel regulars Lady Amanda Harlech, models Baptiste Giabiconi and Heidi Mount, while new faces include Caroline Lebar, Lagerfeld’s longtime communications director, dressed in a mannish Loden jacket much like Mount’s, set off with bright red lipstick.
“A couple of lesbians,” Lagerfeld noted as the clip rolled.
For the night porter asleep at the hotel desk in the fantasy scene, Lagerfeld cast Adnan Taletovich, a popular male model in the Nineties who was actually discovered while working in such a job.
The designer said it was Williams who expressed a wish to collaborate with Delevingne, and that was enough to spark the concept for the film.
“He was easy to work with, very pleasant. He’s very professional,” Lagerfeld enthused, noting that he sent the “Happy” singer “all kinds of Viennese music” to get him into the spirit of the project.
Meanwhile, Delevingne, who is segueing into acting, “wanted to sing for a long time,” and “for her to start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?” Lagerfeld deadpanned.
“Resurrection” is to get its debut on Dec. 1, a day ahead of the Paris-Salzburg fashion show at the Schloss Leopoldskron.
Lagerfeld started making movies to accompany Chanel’s Métiers d’art shows in 2008, always conceiving the plot, dialogue, sets and costumes. He has also done them for certain pre-collections, including one titled “Fashion Machine” that owes a debt to “Metropolis” and required a set that took months of construction. They’ve become some of the most viewed content on Chanel’s YouTube channel, racking up millions of views.
“It’s a modern way to communicate,” Lagerfeld shrugged. “I like to do very short movies. I have no time and no patience to do a feature film. After two days, I want to do something else.”
That said, he noted, “They don’t look like sloppy quickies.”
The film supports one of Chanel’s most successful ready-to-wear businesses, a pre-fall range embellished by the couture ateliers Chanel owns. Lagerfeld said Williams and Delevingne are to reunite in the advertising campaign that he will shoot for the Paris-Salzburg collection, slated to arrive in stores in May 2015.
Williams, who famously wears precious-stone necklaces based on Chanel’s costume jewelry, calls Lagerfeld “one of my idols, in terms of fashion and great taste and tone.”
As for collaborating with the German designer and the English model, as well as Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin, Williams noted, “I don’t know how much more of a regal day one could have.”
Delevingne recalled that when the music producer called and said he was writing a duet for them, “I was so happy, I think I screamed down the phone at him.”
Still, perhaps the most spoiled star on the set was Hudson Kroenig, the 6-year-old son of model Brad Kroenig, who plays a singing and dancing bellboy in the clip’s fantasy sequence and is to walk the runway in Salzburg.
“Hudson is a star like Choupette,” Lagerfeld said, referring to his pet cat. “And Choupette is the Garbo of cats.”