Excuse the clichéd lede, but at Chanel, life’s a beach. Not a shark-attack beach or a misogynist beach, but a serene, inviting blue-sky beach, with real water undulating into and away from the pristine sand.
Inspired by the shores of Sylt, the German island Karl Lagerfeld frequented as a child, the Chanel waterfront was gloriously peaceful. (Not to mention well-tended, another astonishing display of Chanel execution and Wertheimer largess created inside the Grand Palais.) You could close your eyes and let the sounds of the gently rushing water transport you anywhere your mind felt like wandering. That is, if you got there early. But then the revelers showed up — Pharrell Williams, Vanessa Paradis and Pamela Anderson (Sylt, Schmylt. Bring on the “Baywatch” nostalgia.)
They shook off the sand and settled into their boardwalk-bench seats in time for a rollicking beach romp. Lagerfeld is brilliant at presenting the Chanel oeuvre in a different light season after season, with mood changes from refined to cool to bourgeois, while altering the intensity of the house iconography (at least all markers save for those essential jackets), sometimes lightening up on buttons, camellias, double-Cs, even handbags. Not here. This was a flamboyant merch fest — unabashed, shameless, and wonderfully so. Lagerfeld delivered the tweeds in amped-up volumes, most of the jackets boxy and cut away from the body over matching or mismatched skirts, spit skirts and beach-worthy biker shorts. Other suit options came in superlight leather. As for the boatload of dresses — shifts, baby dolls, floaty slips and a charming halter bandeau number in black-and-white for evening. While intense sparkling pastels dominated the palette, it also had a neutral side in sandy beiges, black and white. In fact, at 82 looks, the lineup offered plenty of range and something for every lady with that yen for Chanel and the money to satiate it.
To that end, what real devotee won’t swoon for Lagerfeld’s new one-for-the-price-of-two bag, its chain harness X-marking the torso and depositing a quilted pouch on each hip? As for logos, it was a case of wanton, delirious indiscretion. Earrings, bags and a top-and-skirt set spelled out the brand name is two parts: “CHA” and ”NEL.” Shoes, too — what we could see of them. (Lagerfeld let the models walk barefoot through the sand, carrying their shoes, mostly low-heeled slides.) Kaia Gerber flaunted the brand name in three places from the waist up — belt, shirt-pocket flaps, earrings — and that, with a simple white shirt and black pants.
This was not deep-thoughts fashion: It was God-I-love-to-get-dressed fashion, 15-or-so minutes of unbridled joy. As for its real-world resonance, the ever-present, huge contingent of clients at the show — Chanel knows where its bread is ultimately buttered — offered irrefutable evidence. Turned out as always to the Chanel nines, they treated the shed at the end of the beach like the photo booth at a wedding: Me next! Me Next! Those women, women who pay for their clothes, loved how they looked, and reveled in the feeling — a basic purpose of fashion, its fulfillment from the brand side a goal both emotional and pragmatic.
That’s not to negate the need for fashion that challenges, questions norms, unsettles, disturbs and sometimes offends. In fashion as in most creative (and other) disciplines, there’s no one single right way to proceed. But you don’t need an exit poll to know that most women most of the time view fashion as a conspiratorial ally from which they can draw confidence while finding joy and a reason to smile. To that end, it’s tough to top Lagerfeld’s CHA. NEL.