“It is very Paris, it is very French,” Karl Lagerfeld said during a preview. “But you know, French couture is about promoting Paris. It is part of my job.”
Lagerfeld was speaking about his set, a stretch of stone wall and sidewalk along the Quai de Conti, the imposing dome of the Institut de France in the distance. In the foreground: three kiosks, les bouquinistes featuring myriad Chanel titles.
Those stands weren’t really along the Seine’s Left Bank. Rather, the vignette was another remarkable installation within the Grand Palais, where, on Tuesday morning, their dashing proprietors, Lagerfeld inner-circle denizens Hudson Kroenig, who turns 10 next week, younger brother Jameson and their dad, Brad, took their positions on folding chairs.
Celebration, and yes, marketing, of Paris is indeed inherent in the realization of one of the city’s unique pleasures, haute couture. But more concretely, it’s Lagerfeld’s job to keep Chanel vibrant and essential in an ever-changing fashion landscape and to keep those legions of couture-buying ladies coming back for more. As anyone who has ever seen that particular population arriving gleefully to one of Chanel’s haute shows knows, that starts with the suit. One practical aspect of Lagerfeld’s genius is his ability to continually refresh and renew that most iconic of wardrobe wonders. Here, he took a sideways approach, literally. Starting with a linear silhouette — long jacket, skirt to knee or ankle, Lagerfeld added crystal-bordered zippers down the length of sleeves and skirts, the former opening to reveal fanciful linings and the latter, a matching miniskirt. Perhaps the setting had Lagerfeld thinking gray, because he opened with various takes on the color and returned to it frequently throughout the show. Yet he offered plenty of tweedy alternatives, from feisty pastels to iridescent, almost neutral blues that glistened like water.
Once again, Lagerfeld succeeded in delivering the kind of fashion oxymoron at which he is so deft, and of which many designers can only dream: a look both instantly recognizable yet completely new. Given the flash of leg visible only from the side view, he dubbed the collection “High Profile,” the name obvious, perhaps, but accurate as well, both visually and in context of the season. What and who are more high-profile than Chanel and its creator?
The zipper motif carried into evening in column gowns, some nearly devoid of ornamentation, and others, lavishly encrusted. Either way, they could be undone for that racy show of leg. Yet Lagerfeld is hardly one to be persnickety about a theme. He also showed gowns with jeweled bodices atop skirts of graceful, fluid layers, and a gray-and-while Empire beauty, it’s bodice anchored with a single pink flower.
Lagerfeld typically conducts previews during fittings. This time, as one model awaited his approval, he mused, “Elle est très élégante, non?” Très élégante, oui.