Chanel: “Fashion is about two things: the evolution and the opposite,” Karl Lagerfeld proclaimed during a preview of his couture collection for Chanel. Come show time on Tuesday, “opposite” seemed to be the operative word. The modest venue on Paris’ Rue Cambon, lined in mirrored panels that simulated the Coromandel screens in Coco Chanel’s apartment, was certainly a change of pace from the grand-scale productions at the Grand Palais (too cold this time of year) he’s invested in lately.
Lagerfeld called the look “beyond simple,” a point well made by the accessories, which amounted to a black satin flat with a pointed toe that left the foot nearly naked, and a black ribbon choker worn high on the neck and fastened into the model’s chignon. They were a perfectly chic contrast to the collection’s primary color – pink, inspired by Marie Laurencin’s pastel palette of the 1910s and her portrait of Chanel in 1923.
Yet the evolution part was up for debate. Lagerfeld made the point that a big part of Chanel’s couture business is banked on day clothes. “Life is not a cocktail party,” you know. So the show opened with a surprisingly casual take on the house tweed-suit philosophy, key to which was denim. It’s pointless to argue that jeans are an affront to the fundamental notion of couture at a time when ready-to-wear houses like Balmain have proved that there is a hungry market for obscenely priced streetwear. Jeans are reality. Besides, the Chanel versions were actually cute, done in washed-out pale blue and pastel pink, with a slim leg and a row of chunky buttons at the ankle for added value. When they were paired with a beaded T-shirt with a georgette sash tied low around the hips, the effect was fresh, young and effortless. But what did styling pants under a boxy ’60s-ish suit with a short, hip-slung skirt really do, aside from create an awkward proportion? It felt like pandering.
And just like that, Lagerfeld snapped out of it. The evening portion of the show was equally couched in easy pieces – tunics, T-shirts, tank tops and long, sweeping skirts – but, here, rendered in exquisite treatments in ethereal, barely-there colors. There was seed beading, latticework, frothy skirts done in what looked like a patchwork of streamers and delicate floral appliques. Sweet baby-doll tops were worn over embroidered pants, and sheer organza dresses floated over shimmering bodysuits.
Lest things skew too far in the ingenue direction, Lagerfeld closed the show with Kristen McMenamy, a grown-up vision in petal pink. As she walked, the scrim parted to reveal Lagerfeld and his lot of blushing beauties lined up on a reproduction of the iconic Chanel mirrored staircase.