PARIS — Robert Altman, eat your heart out! On Thursday morning at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld demonstrated once again that he sits alone in the director’s chair of Paris fashion. And to drive home his point, he propped the big room at the Carrousel with mock movie cameras and klieg lights aimed at a painted backdrop of the Louvre, put the press kit in film cans and let it roll on the best production in town. Too bad Bob, whom the Kaiser disinvited the other day, had to miss it.
Lagerfeld’s Chanel had elements of comedy, satire, farce and drama. There were sex scenes, of course. And Lord knows it had pace, as Karl flash-cut his way through dozens of ideas that will feed a slew of fashion sequels.
Scene One was an extravaganza of fake fur, as if Coco’s tweed suits had suddenly grown hair. In black and white, plus wild shades of yellow, green and pink, they turned the suit into a fluff of fun. There were even furry handbags, carried in mama-bag-and-baby-bag tandem (a stroke of inspiration that must have had the Chanel marketers smiling; luxury needs concepts like one-for-the-price-of-two).
Karl also showed a more utilitarian side, with black nylon mechanics’ jumpsuits, pants, skirts and parkas that were all Velcro and cargo pockets. But the show’s single most important look was the short tweed jacket, often with a matching vest. He did it in his couture collection and still loves it over everything from fur-trimmed minis to low-key cuffed men’s trousers and those utility pants.
Lagerfeld’s new Chanel basic is the “French body,” a stretch-velvet unitard with a corset attached to knickers. He showed it under jackets and coats, and it gave him the climax for his spectacle when he sent it out with no extras except cashmere shawls emblazoned with national flags.
The action never stopped. There were sexy salt-and-pepper tweed micro-dresses that sparkled with clear sequins, cashmere sweater sets in lollipop colors, sleek black cardigan pantsuits, little skating coats with quilted corset belts and fresh riffs on Adidas for evening that should give new life to the activewear spoof.
At night, Karl deliberately skated to the edges of taste. His skin-tight, sequined micro-sheaths in midnight blue or dulled silver were more sweet than tart, thanks to Victorian ecru lace collars or campy new plastic camellias that he put at the throat. This also went for a series of metallic leather dresses in electric colors, shown under equally short and shapely veils of black chiffon. “A dress like this could be vulgar,” the Kaiser admitted during a pre-collection fitting, “but the layer of chiffon tones it down just enough.”
Was there accessories news? Were there extras in “Ben Hur”? Karl gave nearly everyone the boot, sending out granny-boots-gone-mad in patent leather with carved high heels and laces undone like a homeboy’s sneakers. He showed black rubber Wellingtons upgraded with the double-C logo, and thigh-high boot-hose in fabrics to match those tiny skirts. The better to brave the elements, there were countless cozy fake fur mufflers and an exaggerated Daniel Boone chapeau with multiple tails that fell to the knees. Just when you thought there were no more new roles for gold chains, Karl twisted them into water-bottle carriers. And what modern girl will be able to do without Chanel’s jeweled gold mesh cellular phone case?
Like a benevolent movie mogul, Chanel owner Alain Wertheimer went backstage to greet his blockbuster director after the show. He whispered into Lagerfeld’s ear, “Now you can afford to have some flops.”
But Karl is not about to rest on his laurels. The designer, who says he hasn’t had a day off since December, will head to Monte Carlo for the Red Cross Ball this weekend, then to Oslo to shoot Linda Evangelista as a fairy snow princess for the Chloe ad campaign.