What is it they say of great storytelling? Sometimes you have to suspend disbelief? So let’s suspend disbelief long enough to consider an unlikely characterization: Karl Lagerfeld, the Norma Rae of fashion.
The flamboyant, fashion-filled collection Lagerfeld showed on Tuesday morning ended with a raucous demonstration: nearly 90 gloriously turned-out women carrying placards and shouting pro-fashion slogans, lead by a megaphone-wielding Gisele. They were occupying the chicest of city streets — the dazzling 130-meter Chanel Boulevard, which Lagerfeld dreamed up and commissioned, its grand facades extending 25 meters into the domed expanse of the Grand Palais.
Women demanding the right to be chic — now there’s a cause. And, not that Lagerfeld’s turning all P.C. on us, there was a message here: “All different kinds of women, all different kinds,” he said during a preview, noting that they’d all have different makeup, with hair “hardly groomed…It’s like walking in the streets.”
Two models who happened to be at rue Cambon for their fittings made the point: one, an exquisite newcomer named Lily, whom Lagerfeld said is 14, “but maybe she’s not 14”; the other, a vision of gorgeous familiarity. “Hi, guys. What’s happening?” queried an animated Gisele — “the former Ms. Bündchen,” as Lagerfeld referred to her — as she emerged from the makeshift dressing room at the far end of Lagerfeld’s studio.
He explained the show’s premise, that it would end with a feminist show of force, his appreciation for the cause inherited from his mother. “It’s nice to be a feminist,” Lagerfeld offered. “She was very much into that. She used to say to me, ‘Men are not that important. If you are not too ugly you can have a baby with any man you want.’ You can wait a few years to tell your children,” he said to Bündchen.
“I won’t tell them that,” she deadpanned back.
Bündchen was happy to voice approval of her show look, a longish striped cardigan over briefs, telling the designer, “Thank you for my beautiful beige outfit! I love it!!” It was not indicative of the whole, except for its individuality.
Lagerfeld played to the street-fashion shtick in high style, with a diverse, often inventive, lineup. Most daring and utterly fabulous: an enormously exploded vibrant floral silk print, the original painted by Lagerfeld himself. He used it on one side of reversible coats, the other side colorful tweeds (of course), and affixed to leather boots for protest-marching in style.
Some of his women wore long, relatively sober tweed jackets over wide pants, others favored splashier fare, literally — dark tweeds painted over with bright multicolor spots. There was a pin-striped moment (career gals deserve fashion, too) with knee shorts matched to crisply poetic white shirts, and even some army green. One shirtdress-over-skirt boasted Chanel’s newest accessory: a jacket-turned-bag worn as a cross-body. And, oh yes, what would a Parisian street scene be without “cement” dresses? Lagerfeld crafted these from little rectangular leather tiles painted in semi-glossy silvery gray to look like the rue beneath your feet. Some had feisty flowers sprouting up in between, in defiance of the city’s foot traffic.
Speaking of which, Lagerfeld showed not a single high heel. “It’s not the red carpet,” he said. “It’s the street.”