It took the Chanel team six weeks to construct the Paris street that formed the catwalk for this season’s presentation. Dozens of artisans worked on the set, transforming an enormous sound stage in Cinecittà studios into a pre-dawn Parisian street complete with brasseries, shops, a Métro stop and a cinema. Dozens more were involved in the creation of the collection itself, which apart from the in-house artisans within the Chanel atelier, included seventeen make-up artists, seventeen hair-dressers and eight manicurists.
With all that said, the final product was well worth the effort as show was stunning. The almost surreal pre-fall fashion show unfurled like an intricately narrated film that connected Gabrielle Chanel, the movie business, classic 1960’s Parisian style and the city of Rome into a living, moving masterpiece.
Karl Lagerfeld, long known to be a lover of early cinema, used this as a starting point for this collection which played homage to 1960s Parisian style. Mr. Lagerfeld has had a long and fruitful relationship with Rome via his decades-long tenure at Maison Fendi, but the house of Chanel has been involved with the city for far longer than that. Coco Chanel herself worked extensively in Rome, owning an apartment on Via Giulia while she dressed some of the great Continential actresses (Jeanne Moreau, Delphine Seyrig, Monica Vitti, Romy Schneider and Anouk Aimée) for their work with the Italian masters of film. She often strolled about Rome chatting with artist Jean Cocteau and socialite Francine Weisweiller and struck up a friendship with director Luchino Visconti (the Visconti) when he was still a new talent in Italian cinema.
Given those synchronicities, it’s no surprise that Mr. Lagerfeld would bring his Métiers d’Art show to the Eternal City, but the real question is what took him so long to finally do it? Well, it took a while, but the show was worth the wait.
There’s always so much going on at a Chanel show that it’s hard to know what to describe first, but in this case the monochromatic colour scheme is the most apparent feature. The set was coloured completely in black, white and silver (a nod to pre-technicolour movies which were filmed on black an white sets) and the clothes mirrored this with a palette that was heavy on the monochrome and glimmering metallic accents. Shades of inky blue, camel, grey, plum and burgundy added subtle pops of reserved colour, while pale pink, ivory and taupe injected a bit of sweetness into the lineup.
The monochrome mood of the clothes did more than just mirror the backdrop, it gave a sharp, disciplined focus that streamlined the collection into something darker, gritter and more mature than we’ve seen on the Chanel runway in many seasons. A new shoe silhouette- a bi-coloured mule with a snake entwined around a pearl on the heel, highlighted the sexual undertone of the collection, which was loaded with lingerie laciness and shiny leather. There was more than a hint of coquettish-ness to be seen in the barely-there slip dresses, draped one-shoulder blouses, black leather minidresses, skirts and blouses, black lace stockings, finger less gloves and silky camisoles. Paired with mussed- up beehives, smudgy sexed up makeup and strappy slingbacks, the models looked like they were doing the chicest walk of shame in history! It catapulted Chanel into va-va-voom territory, albeit with the finesse and sophistication of an august French couture name.
It wasn’t completely racy though- boxy coats in leather and textured felt grounded things, as did a selection of embellished sweaters, schoolgirl tweeds, mannish vests, roomy trousers, Timberland-style boots and voluminous pyjama pants in nubby bouclé. There was also some exceptional knitwear; especially some geometric crewnecks topped with elaborate jeweled capes and gossamer pleated outfits edged in lace and appliquéd net. Veteran brand lovers will especially love these as they perfectly play into the iconic look of classic Chanel.
A nod to the society lady was seen in the slim skirts, trim jackets and silky blouses with crisp collars and cuffs that were interspersed throughout the lineup. She was especially dominant in the evening pieces, with a prim array of high- necked silk dresses, pleated evening gowns and bejeweled capelets. They were gorgeous! The collection culminated with a suite of delicate lace gowns and embellished ostrich-trimmed outerwear pieces, outfits that will look incredible worn to and from a fab night out.
Hints of the cinema popped up within the clothing itself- most obviously in an acrylic shoulder bag fashioned in the shape of a vintage movie camera- but more subtle hints played out in the silhouettes and ornamentation of the garments themselves. Delicate metallic embellishments, glimmering embroideries and shimmering fabric treatments reflected the silvery celluloid sheen of old film stock and were impressive echoes of Rome’s alta moda’s glory days, while structural pleats on dramatic caped shapes and delicate faggoting on gossamer silk dresses brought to mind the characteristically dramatic silhouette of Italian designer Roberto Capucci’s work.
It was an impressive collection- and a rebellious one at that. Chanel has long been considered the paragon of ladylike French couture, but this offering’s grungy, cool-chick vibe brought a refreshing change. The Chanel women has never been sexier, but as it’s a Parisian art to suggest eroticism rather than to blatantly strut it, she remains a lady. Coco herself would have been proud of all this, being very much the rebel throughout her lifetime and very colourful youth.
However it’s not a young collection. Mr. Lagerfeld has been playing into the theme of a youthful Chanel for the past few seasons and there was undoubtedly some of that here, but this offering brought with it a welcome edginess. The looks are harder, sexier, grittier, and the youthfulness in this show seemed more spicy than sweet. In layman’s terms, it’s more Rihanna than Miley.
This was one of the most cohesive Chanel collections that Mr. Lagerfeld has done recently. With his enormous cache of references, previous shows have appeared to be all over the place but this one was incredibly streamlined, with each of the influences meeting in perfect harmony to create an incredible collection.
Mademoiselle Coco would have been proud, Chanel’s 2016 Pre-Fall Métiers d’Art show was fabulous!