Karl Lagerfeld is always so onto-the-next-thing pragmatic about his work that it’s hard to detect when—or if—he is ever really touched by what he does. But his latest Métiers d’Art show in celebration of the thrilling craftsmanship of Chanel’s artisans moved him. After this morning’s performance (there will be another this afternoon and one more this evening), he relaxed on the balcony of the Schloss Leopoldskron—breath frosting in the freezing air, lake behind him a glass mirror on which 20 swans had recently passed in close formation—like a man who was completely at peace with his past, present, and future. Usually there’s a clipped urgency to Lagerfeld, but here he was happy to sit back and acknowledge how close the collection was to his heart. When Hudson Kroenig stepped out in his little-boy lederhosen, it could have been Karl an age ago. He mentioned that he was always partial to the Tyrol, and here it was: the feathered hats and breeches, the embroideries, the trims and braiding, given a sparkling fairy-tale spin.
Salzburg was already an appropriately fairy-tale backdrop—jewel of Baroque architecture, birthplace of Mozart, setting for The Sound of Music (Liesl and Rolf duetted on “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” in the Schloss’ gazebo)—but Lagerfeld spun his own Mitteleuropa fantasy as his models with their gilded eyelids moved through rococo salons lit by candles. The capelets, frogged jackets, and side-striped trousers echoed a Viennese military academy. It was one of those jackets, transmuted into the uniform of a hotel page in Salzburg’s Mittersill Hotel, that inspired Chanel’s signature little black jacket (though it was more often white, Lagerfeld pointed out). There were plenty of them in the show, too. And where would Mitteleuropa be without loden green?
In Reincarnation, the film he screened last night, Pharrell Williams and Cara Delevingne brought Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria back to life. “Sissi” she was called, “CC” Pharrell sang. The lace and ribbons and elaborate sleeve details of Winterhalter’s portraits of Sissi became part of the Chanel vocabulary in this collection, but they were balanced by a black leather biker worn with jeans, or tiny suede shorts paired with laced-up suede thigh-highs. (You could sense the Lonely Goatherd’s flock getting nervous.) Sissi and CC, then and now, the kind of juggling act that has become a staple in Lagerfeld’s massive collections for Chanel. (This one had 80-plus looks.) Similarly, there was a striking dialogue between light and shade, the mark, you could say, of the filmmaker that Lagerfeld is proving himself to be. Jamie Bochert, elegantly neurotic in a black evening dress with a matching cape-jacket, might have newly sprung from Freud’s couch (to continue in the mitteleuropaische vein), while Lindsey Wixson was a fairy princess in gorgeously embroidered pale blue chiffon.
There was another interesting historical confluence involving Chanel herself that underscored the rightness of this whole event for Lagerfeld. Romy Schneider, the quintessence of Austrian elegance, made her name playing Sissi in a 1950s trilogy. In 1961, director Luchino Visconti asked Chanel to dress Schneider for Boccaccio ’70. She would return to the role of Sissi in 1972 for Visconti’s Ludwig. Sissi, CC, Romy…It was pleasantly diverting to imagine just how much Lagerfeld was reincarnating with his show today.