“This is not Elizabeth Taylor, anyway,” Karl Lagerfeld declared. Encamped in a suite at the Mercer Hotel — which the Chanel entourage took over in full in preparation for the house’s Métiers d’Art show on Tuesday night — Lagerfeld quickly dispelled any preconception of a luxe cheese fest of overdone makeup and tricked-out headdresses inspired by La Liz’s (albeit delightful) turn as Cleopatra.
Lagerfeld made the disclaimer before presenting his collection in the Temple of Dendur, the grand, solemn artifact of ancient Egypt under Roman rule, commissioned after Caesar Augustus ousted the real Cleopatra, and ensconced since the Sixties in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a gift to the U.S. from Egypt. When it comes to his itinerant show locations, Lagerfeld typically draws amply from their sartorial traditions. Pilfering elements from lederhosen to cowboy boots, he Chanel-ifies them with equal parts respect and audacity. At a time when fear of reprisal over cultural appropriation has siphoned material from many a designer’s inspiration well, Lagerfeld remains fearless. If something inspires him, he goes for it, here celebrating the graceful power of Egyptian iconography in a wealth of beautiful clothes.
As he imagines it, anyway. For all Lagerfeld’s runway wanderlust, in truth he has one source of inspiration, his own noggin. “This was not looking at books and doing it,” he offered. “It was the mood, the feeling, what I remember and things like that.
“There’s a timelessness to it,” he said of the allure of ancient Egyptian imagery, noting that the idea for the collection crystallized before the location was secured. “I always was interested in the old Egypt, from 3,000 years before Jesus Christ. And then I said it would be great to show it in the Met, but I never thought it was possible. And then it was possible.”
But then, if “impossible” exists within the world of Chanel, we’ve yet to see it. Here, the house booked the Met for the show (which necessitated closing public access to the Temple of Dendur for many days prior) and a nearby expanse of Central Park for the party. At the museum, Lagerfeld removed the utilitarian membership desks and installed huge urns of flowers, but otherwise left the Grand Hall and hallowed Temple area as is, save for the installation of show seating in the latter. Guests included a glitzy celebrity roster — Julianne Moore, Margot Robbie, Penélope Cruz, Lily-Rose Depp and Sofia Coppola. One celebrity wasn’t seated: Pharrell Williams walked the show, a vision all in gold, long sweater atop leather pants.
The gold wasn’t just for Pharrell. Rather, it proved an overarching theme and a perfect point of intersection between Lagerfeld’s two locations, the Temple and the city in which it now resides. Ancient Egyptians revered the precious metal literally; finance-driven NYC does so figuratively. Never mind that Lagerfeld’s show happened on an unhappy day for Wall Street; you’d never know it from the runway or from the contingent of dressed-to-the-Chanel-nines clients who turned out. Surely they loved the gold that radiated from start to finish, most often elegantly rendered. Lagerfeld favored a long, lean silhouette, building many looks on an ingenious underpinning — a floor-length white, gauzy dress. He opened with suits — surprise! — in endless options. They came short, long, curvy and fabulously oversized, their tweeds rendered in multiple shades of metallic gold, or edged in golden leather.
Lagerfeld drew on the precision of Egyptian art for clothes cut with clean, spare lines, with nary a trace of superfluous flou, even at night. There were plenty of demonstrative, rounded wesekh collars, high-intensity texture — those Barrie knits, amazing! — and embellishment. It came lavish, in elaborate mosaics (down to the heels on the gold boots); intricate embroideries, some with a tinge of Art Deco, and a recurrent scarab motif, and playful, in a feisty logo print that combined elements of then and now. “Hiero-graffiti,” quipped Lagerfeld sounding board Amanda Harlech during the preview.
If that treatment hinted toward street, so, too, did a few denim looks and a leather biker jacket, the former decorated with tonal denim appliques that looked like non-specific ancient symbols and the latter, stamped to imitate croc, Exhibit A of the brand’s new no-more-exotics policy. All together, the event was exhilarating and the clothes, (give or take the occasional too-flashy-sweater-and-ombréd-leather-jeans combo), as chic as it gets.
Still, ancient homage has its limits, and so does fancy. After the show, guests strolled or were bused a mere 10 blocks south for the postshow party in the park. Well, in a heated tent Chanel pitched in the park, this being November, and the temperature, chilly. Once there, the revelers settled into booths to feast on fare from that most modern and proletarian of Gotham conveniences — food trucks.