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Chanel’s Royal Flush

For the restless Karl Lagerfeld, fashion is a movable, unstoppable feast.

MONTE CARLO — For the restless Karl Lagerfeld, fashion is a movable, unstoppable feast, and he — along with a Chanel entourage of 80 — touched down here this week for a show of the house’s luxury pre-fall collection and a whirlwind of social functions attended by members of Monaco’s royal family.

It was all in a day’s work for Lagerfeld, who on Wednesday evening was doing final fittings, gleefully snipping silk Wolford pantyhose right out of the package and styling the slices as wrist and neck cuffs — “I love DIY,” he said — while fielding questions from a rotating pack of journalists, including John Colapinto, who is profiling him for The New Yorker’s next style issue.

“It’s a bit of couture without being couture,” the designer said of a collection he started presenting in 2002 as a way to showcase the savoir faire of the seven couture ateliers Chanel owns, including the embroiderer Lesage, the shoemaker Massaro and the costume jewelry house Goossens. The collection has evolved into a significant business for Chanel, fanned pre-collection mania throughout the industry and brought five-digit price tags to the boutique floor.

“Did you see this necklace?” Lagerfeld asked, motioning toward a spectacular breastplate of articulated glass flowers lying in a tray on his desk. “It’s something like 30,000 euros,” or about $39,900.

Bigger sums are won and lost at the main casino complex here, where the show took place Thursday morning in a gilded 1878 theater for an audience that included local and international clients and press; a clutch of French actresses; Princess Caroline of Hanover; her daughter, Charlotte Casiraghi, and Caroline’s son Andrea’s girlfriend, Tatiana Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is among the leading figures of Europe’s glamorous young social set, and she confirmed she’s moving to New York in January to study art history at The New School. She said she’s already found a place to live on Washington Square Park. “I’m very excited,” she added.

To be sure, the Chanel collection looked the money and then some, with about half the outfits showcasing embroideries, some spectacular, some cunningly minimal, as if the wearer’s jewelry had been sewn into the garments.

Titled “By the Blue Train,” the show referenced the beloved 1924 ballet costumed by Gabrielle Chanel and choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister. It was an apt moniker given Thursday night’s Nijinsky awards gala, which was presided over by Princess Caroline, honorary president of the Monaco Dance Forum. Like the ballet, the fashion show breezily referenced some Twenties obsessions, from retro swimsuit prints (here transformed into a lush, bejeweled cardigan) to the movies, via a suite of glamorous, long black evening dresses.

Knit dressing, longer skirts and peacoats were among the new fashion messages, and Lagerfeld slyly sparked many of his feminine and frothy looks with tough, low-heeled boots, a swath of rich embroidery wrapped around the heel in lieu of spurs.

“It’s a collection of elements: sweaters, knit dresses, little jackets,” Lagerfeld said in his mile-a-minute manner. “Already it looks different from the summer collection, no?”

It was the designer’s perpetual hunger for the new that inspired him to launch the luxury pre-fall line, sometimes referred to as Chanel’s “satellite” or metiers d’art collection. “With some brands, the clothes hang in the shops for six months, which is beyond depressing,” said the designer, who now does six full ready-to-wear collections a year for Chanel, ensuring a fresh blast of fashion in stores every two months.

“This collection is more dedicated to our faithful customers, who have everything,” said Françoise Montenay, president of Chanel SA. “It’s quite an easy collection to sell. It comes at a moment when nothing is new [in stores] anywhere.”

Like cruise, the pre-fall line boasts a luxuriously long selling season, arriving in boutiques at the end of April and in May, Montenay noted.

Chanel starts showing the line on Saturday to its own boutique network, and it is wholesaled to select department stores, too. Prices are still being finalized on the 2007 range, but they don’t seem to matter to the Chanel faithful. “They don’t ask the price when they have the feeling they’re buying something exceptional,” noted Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s head of fashion. “There’s a lot of work behind it.”

While the work involved in the show and the collection would be enough for many designers, somehow the indefatigable Lagerfeld always finds time for play, too.

After fittings and rehearsals on Wednesday, he hosted a late dinner of artichokes, truffle pasta and exotic sorbets for 60 people at Rampoldi, Princess Caroline at his side, and afterward he popped into the bar at the Hotel de Paris around 1:30 in the morning to check out the scene.

“I feel very much at home here,” the designer said of Monaco. “I lived here in the Eighties quite a bit. What I like in Monte Carlo is that I feel liked, I feel wanted. But I can walk on the street with nobody grabbing.”

How does he spend his time on the Côte d’Azur? “Working, reading, sketching, sleeping, listening to music, writing faxes — like any day is spent,” he replied.

“I think Monte Carlo really rings true with Chanel because she hung out here,” said actress Amira Casar, her hair still blonde from her role as a frustrated perfumer in the film “Coupable.” “It’s my Cicciolina side,” she joked. “Put that in the article.”

Among other VIPs attending the festivities were Cat Power, Elodie Bouchez and Anna Mouglalis, who disclosed plans to direct her first film this summer. “It’s about vampires,” she said. “It’s adapted from a Russian folk tale.”

The Chanel show wasn’t Lagerfeld’s only fashion event of the day. He also designed costumes for the Monte Carlo Ballet — including corsets and jeans worn by both male and female dancers — which performed at Thursday night’s Nijinsky awards ceremony.

Among the stars racing for the curtain was Diane Kruger, who joined Lagerfeld on stage to present an award to emerging choreographer Marco Goecke. “I’ve known him since I was 16,” cooed Kruger of Lagerfeld, who just photographed her for a Chanel handbag campaign.

The evening’s performances, followed by a gala dinner, went off without a hitch — save for technical problems with sound during the first part of the ceremony. As images of one prize winner flashed on the screen silently, the choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot, the master of ceremonies, observed to a round of chuckles, “Luckily it’s dance and not opera.”