It started with bells chiming. Not ominous and dirge-like, but bells that chimed brightly. As they rang, the models exited through the door of a charming structure, its signage reading, “Chalet Gardenia.” They looked ready to embark on a stroll through the surrounding vast, snowy mountain retreat, but instead took positions in front of the chalet’s facade. It wasn’t St. Moritz, but a winter wonderland sprung from Karl Lagerfeld’s imagination.
Just before, the event’s 2,600 guests had milled about. They included celebrities — Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell Janelle Monáe, Kristen Stewart, Stella Tennant among them — and a large contingent of clients who had flown in to pay their respects and take in this moment of fashion history. Done up in their Chanel best, they presented an impromptu treatise on brilliant branding — the looks all unmistakably Karl’s Chanel, yet the variety so rich that this diverse band of loyalists could exercise self-expression, from chichi to casual, and even off-beat.
All had settled into their seats well before the models exited Chalet Gardenia. Once the models took their places, a voice announced a minute of silence. The sudden quiet awed, each guest’s private contemplation part of a palpable communal tribute. To mark its closure, an audio of a Lagerfeld press interview came over the sound system. In it, he discussed in French his decision to take the job at Chanel 37 years ago. Apparently, he’d initially turned it down. “When they asked me a second time, I accepted because everyone was saying to me: ‘Don’t do it, it won’t work,’” Lagerfeld said. “But it’s the first time that a brand became a fashion thing again, apparently, something that you want. Even to the Queen Mother of England….And I will never forget, when she got out of the car” — where this occurred is unclear — “we’d made the decor look beautiful, I can tell you that! A fortune, flowers and everything. And there, she said in English: ‘Oh, it’s like walking in a painting.’ And that, I will never forget.”
Then the show started, with the models proceeding down the long, snowy length of the Grand Palais. It was indeed as if they had entered a painting or an impeccably realized movie set. The collection was close to perfect, as well, filled with alluring clothes that somehow felt right for the moment, especially the opening and closing sections. A brand spokeswoman confirmed that Virginie Viard, Lagerfeld’s right hand and successor, had continued tweaking the clothes following his death. She was credited in the press notes as cocreator of the collection with Lagerfeld.
Out first: Cara Delevingne, introducing inviting pilings of tweeds. While the palette was sober — black, brown, gray, white — the mood was anything but, a relaxed array of trouser suits, separates and sweater dressing. A key look featured a big coat over slouchy trousers in mismatched tweeds; leaner offerings featured trim coats over skirts over pants cropped below the knees, also in mismatched plaids. The show ended with a litany of fabulous, round-the-clock whites, from puffers to charming feathered cocktail dresses.
In between those two sections came a potpourri of ideas — traditional suits, bright color pops, a Chanel chairlift print on white, a black-and-white passage that also ran round the clock, from a sweater with embroidered Nordic motif over pants to a sleek evening pairing of black top and white trousers, both in sparkling sequins. Throughout, there was plentiful fashion and a fresh attitude to many of the clothes. As the show ended to “Heroes” on the soundtrack, the audience engaged in a long, standing ovation.
So what next? During a couture preview in January, Lagerfeld was fully engaged as always. After the Fendi show in Milan two weeks ago, Silvia Venturini Fendi reported that he had been on the phone the day before he died, issuing directives about the collection. It’s safe to assume that he was similarly engaged at Chanel. It’s also likely that through much of the design process Lagerfeld was in a weakened condition, and that his right-hand Viard, who now has full creative control, took on more decision-making responsibility than ever before. If so, this collection indicates that Chanel’s future is in good hands. We know it’s in dedicated hands. Viard deserves wishes for a great solo run after years of dedicated service to Lagerfeld, Chanel and their global roster of clients.
Still, fashion changed forever the day Lagerfeld died. With the power of his personality and his talent, particularly as expressed through his work for Chanel, he bridged eras and captivated generations of star-struck admirers within and outside the industry, a constant Olympian presence in an ever-more frenetic fashion landscape. He stayed relevant by refusing to ever look back, but only forward.
Chanel is now ready to do just that. Post-show, the house e-mailed a press release about the collection. It was descriptive about the clothes and unsentimental. At the show, guests received a different press kit. This one included an illustration that Lagerfeld did several years ago, according to the house spokeswoman. She provided no information on its origins and the occasion for which he drew it, so its prescient quality intrigues. It’s a self-portrait of Lagerfeld with Coco Chanel, under the inscription, “The beat goes on…”
It will, it must. But a different beat, to be determined.