Chanel: C’est magnifique! And not just this collection, but the last 20 years. At the risk of kicking a guy when he’s up, happy anniversary, Karl. You see, Karl Lagerfeld hates such observances and congratulatory treks back in time. Despite a scholarly knowledge of history, he boasts of believing only in “today and tomorrow.” But it’s impossible to put the glorious couture collection Lagerfeld showed on Tuesday into context without noting that it marked his 20th year with the fabled house of Chanel, a house that remains great because, back when, Alain Wertheimer found the right person to forge that forward path.
In so doing, Wertheimer did more than secure his own holdings. Together, he and Lagerfeld changed fashion, establishing a renaissance model that would become the template — much-envied and copied — for rejuvenation of other storied houses.
All these years later, in this most youth-conscious of industries, does Karl fear age, competition, fatigue? He seems oblivious to the first, driven by the second and immune to the third. And he has never attained a level of arrogance that allows him to rest on his laurels. Or perhaps his particular kind of arrogance resists complacency as the scourge of mediocrity. But one thing is certain: Karl Lagerfeld never rests. Despite all that he knows, he never assumes to know all. Over the years, he has shown truly great collections, others that landed somewhere south of greatness and a few that made you wonder, ‘What was he thinking?’ But you always know that he’s thinking something. Never once has he shifted to autopilot, despite the long-term accolades, comfort and success. Which is why Chanel still charms not only its core ready-to-wear and couture customers (and there are so many of the latter, the house just hired a third directrice of couture for the first time since the days of Mme. herself), but the much-sought-after young set. The last range from fashion editors who queue up for that one perfect piece to supercool Maggie Gyllenhaal, who lit up the Golden Globes decked in the house’s haute froth with an edge.
Maggie and every other Oscar-bound beauty should do some serious browsing chez Chanel before that big night out, because Lagerfeld’s newest collection is nothing short of breathtaking. His evening section offered a lexicon on grace in motion, with come-one-come-all diversity. Maggie might flaunt her It Girl persona in a short shimmering chemise. Nicole Kidman could reprise last year’s pink ruffles with a diva-worthy strapless lace gown fastened by huge jewels in front and back, or play the goddess in delicate, gold-embroidered white silk. And Catherine Zeta-Jones could digress from her pregnant penchant for black into, say, a flurry of pink petals. Holding these disparate looks together: that rare thread of genuine refinement, and a aura of gentleness.
But then, Lagerfeld set out to deliver a treatise on fragility this season. Playing to the mood, his girls glowed with sweet pink cheeks, their hair in unruly upsweeps secured by little hats or cascading flowers. He kept everything light as the dawn. Lean coats felt weightless over blithe dresses accessorized with multiple pearl strands that, while ample, never hindered the airy aura. But what exemplified the mood most notably were the tweeds — torn to shreds and then embroidered onto tulle, their density fading to nothingness for angelic effect.
“Look, this is new,” Karl remarked of the tweed motif before the show. “It has nothing to do with Chanel, but is more Chanel than Chanel.” Perhaps now we can add the title master of paradox to Lagerfeld’s list of accomplishments. Still, he’s got nothing on one of the guards working the metal detector at the show venue, the restaurant Ledoyen. After the three-man check, he returned each handbag to its owner, wishing her, “bonne defilé.” Positively prophetic.