Chanel: He used to be the Kaiser. Now, he's le Roi.
Karl Lagerfeld is the master of the couture milieu. With his Chanel show on Thursday morning, he delivered nothing short of a tour de force, a stunning collection rich with drama, opulence and, most importantly, spectacular fashion. Here were exquisite clothes appropriate for just about every occasion and every age from madame to ingénue.
Lagerfeld showed in a stark white space, the seats arranged around a stage of ascending concentric circles resembling a big, minimalist wedding cake. Then out came his models — all 50 of them — under the cover of brooding black, their hair piled high and fastened with bows to Bardot-meets-Belle Epoque effect. The girls arranged themselves into a vignette of romantic theatricality, those at the center most elaborately turned out, with silhouettes calming down as the circles widened outward. "Fifty coats, all different," Lagerfeld said after the show. "I saw it in my sleep, 50 girls turning around. It came out of nowhere. It was frightening."
If there's hyperbole in so simplistic an account of his design process, well, why shouldn't Lagerfeld be allowed his fantasies, too, especially when so spectacularly realized? And spectacular they were, the coats ranging from epic capes to flirty flyaways to smart tailored gems. As soon as the girls positioned themselves, they reversed their parade, each removing her wrap to reveal not only a fabulous suit or dress, but the most glorious linings this side of those proverbial silver-backed clouds. It started understandably enough — a short coat with lining to match a stunning strapless tweed dress, for example. But as day evolved into cocktail into evening, the hidden treasures grew increasingly awesome, one lining crafted from floating ribbons of pink silk, another decorated with intricate embroidered camellias. "In some cases the linings cost more than the dress," Lagerfeld quipped.
In more ways than one. The thought, care and creativity that went into those linings brought a third, highly detailed element to each look, after the outer shell of the coat itself and the clothing under it, with most pieces already highly designed. Along with perfect suits, Lagerfeld showed a dazzling array of dresses from day through the most opulent of evenings. He dressed Tasha Tilberg as a punk princess with a flapper fantasy and Shalom Harlow as a latter-day Lillie Langtry, all pink and poufed. Elsewhere, he might feather and beribbon a party frock, veil a sliver of silver in black lace or turn a major gown Modernist graphic with a high-contrast bow motif. And he did it all to perfection in a spellbinding treatise on what couture should be, and is, in the hands of a master.
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