Humankind discovered fashion in a garden. And the guilty pleasure. So what took Karl Lagerfeld so long to create his own Eden of Haute, a bucolic paradise filled with wonders of the flou and flora varieties?
Guests at Chanel’s show on Tuesday morning came upon a circular stark-white garden installed beneath the dome of the Grand Palais. Some might have thought back to Chanel’s spring 2009 couture show, for which Lagerfeld decorated with massive white paper flowers. While those were all-out romantic, these were bolder, more fun and slightly weird. As the show started, that weirdness came into full flower; this was no ordinary faux garden, but a mechanical one, its blossoms cranking open to reveal vibrant petals of orange, yellow, pink and red. Then came the gardeners, handsome in straw hats and knickers. They escaped unscathed, but for the young man wielding a giant quilted, CC’ed watering can with which he circled the principle flower bed. The photographers took more glee in mocking the guy than they ever could in their typical battle cry of “uncross your legs!”
While it didn’t take a genius to pick up on the theme, Lagerfeld introduced it with restraint, matching unadorned suits to the colors of the flowers — bright orange, yellow, pink, Yves Klein blue. There were jackets cut lean through the bust before releasing into a gentle trapeze over short skirts. That silhouette was but one of several — and one of a thousand ideas. Another proportion was cropped over long, slim, slightly low-slung skirts baring a good stretch of skin. (“The stomach is free. It’s the new cleavage,” Lagerfeld proclaimed during a preview.)
Then the adornment started, and the material magic: intricate laces, embroidered tweeds, plastered linens, applications of floral wonders from discreet touches — the single blossom fastening the end of the girl’s loose braid to euphoric 3-D floral beds that formed deep borders on coats; a long tunic, fanciful sleeves, and finally, one of the most gorgeously labor-intensive bridal gowns in the history of matrimony. Exit after exit took your breath away.
And yet, typical of Lagerfeld’s Chanel, the magic was in the reality. Lagerfeld has no interest in costume design; he makes real clothes, period. Here, he stressed that point by grounding everything, literally, with flat black sock booties, young and practical. And while some of his girls wore wide-brimmed, tulle-swathed hats with an aura of Edwardian romance, others pulled on familiar knit caps, only zhooshed up to couture standards. “From the street,” Lagerfeld said. “I see everybody wearing them, so I thought I should make a couture version.”
The perverse insertion of a grunge basic into the most rarefied of fashion contexts is but one example of the mastery Lagerfeld has long exercised at Chanel. And a guilty pleasure in which to revel. On second thought, this is couture. Hold the guilty.