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Accessories Aside, Chanel “Peculiarly Mundane”

Haute couture — an identity crisis?

Haute couture — an identity crisis? Hardly a new notion. But the latest manifestations of it are playing out lethargically in this disaffecting couture season. Even Karl Lagerfeld, whose haute bravado is typically unwavering, showed a peculiarly mundane collection for Chanel, one with the ring of chic, if not directional, ready-to-wear.

Though Lagerfeld worked a Space Age-cum-Renaissance motif, the show was really about two things: first, another spectacular set, this time a tented affair with a circular floor that for the finale spun the audience around as the models posed in doorways; second, thigh-high denim boots and matching gauntlets, shown with all kinds of clothes, including a bounty of straightforward tweeds, typically black, white and meaty.

Which is not to suggest a dearth of haute accoutrements. In fact, Lagerfeld decorated everything in sight, from the models’ hair, strewn with pearls, to their feet, their boots occasionally replaced with mary janes teetering atop oddly sculpted heels. Rather, the rtw attitude resulted from the lack of wonderment the clothes elicited. The most impressive of Lagerfeld’s couture efforts have inspired awe over his ability to so brilliantly reinvent the Chanel wheel again and again; here, he merely put a perfectly OK luster on a wheel already parked in the drive.

Lagerfeld swung between linear Sixties shapes and soft volume derived from belled skirts, most of which came heavily embellished. Crisp shifts flaunted elaborate arrangements of banded ribbons; a pair of jacketed, drop-waist dresses flashed monster-stone embroideries, and a brown suit, thick fur outlines. The Renaissance mood derived from some fuller shapes that pouffed about the thighs like a balladeer’s breeches, a flamboyant magenta and embroideries of intricately worked medallions. Evening was something of a pastiche, ranging from black lace ingénue dresses to lavish, jewel-encrusted columns.

As for that demonstrative denim footgear, it made for a wacky touch, and one with serious possibilities, at that. But as the initial amusement faded, Lagerfeld did something almost completely foreign to a Chanel runway — he let his runway affectation du jour distract from the clothes. This did not, however, mask their wearability factor, and, in this season, there’s a lot to be said for that.