It took six months to make the 300 flowers that decorated the Chanel set today. Each of them had its own engine, and when at the show’s start Baptiste Giabiconi applied a theatrical splash from a CC-branded watering can and they simultaneously burst into mechanical bloom, it felt like Spring 2515 in a world where the only life left was this small synthetic paradise. “Or maybe it’s a world that never existed in the first place,” Karl Lagerfeld mused afterward.
He claimed the show came to him in an electronic flash. “One morning in bed, I saw it in a second.” Which certainly beats most people’s dyspeptic awakenings. But that is Lagerfeld to a fabulous T. He sees other worlds—and then he makes them. In the case of his new couture show, it was a garden, the kind of garden, perhaps, that the mad inventor Rotwang might have created in Metropolis, one of Lagerfeld’s favorite films. There were also echoes of Blade Runner in the sense of a perfectly realized replicant world (and in the makeup, for that matter). Was Lagerfeld perhaps somewhat of a mad scientist, too? “No, I’m a well-trained machine,” he fired back. “I know my métier.” And that was on effortless display today.
What Lagerfeld is really doing each season is fine-tuning an attitude. The clothes and accessories exist to amplify that attitude: the flat sock-booties, the bared midriffs, the slouchy skirts ending just below the knee, the huge Edwardian hats or the puffy beanies…they were today’s ingredients in the ongoing saga of Chanel’s constant reinvention. Lagerfeld is a psychic sponge, absorbing the energy and inclinations of the women he draws to him. If it was once Inès and Linda and Claudia who played the muse, it’s now Cara and Kendall and their ilk, and the collections accordingly shift in sensibility. But it’s Lagerfeld’s unique genius to gauge how to combine reflections of them with projections of himself. That idiosyncratic combination of style and substance is what gives Chanel its potency.
Still, there are always haters who squawk about the nothingness of each new collection in relation to “capital C” couture. Coco only knows what calcified notions they clasp to their withered bosoms, but Karl could certainly tell them about the bride’s train that took 15 girls a month to make, if expenditure of man hours is a criterion the stick-in-the-muds value. Then there will be everyone else who sees the color, the verve, the insinuation of a gloriously untrammeled imagination into the real (or real-ish) world.
To elaborate on the notion of some future where all history—and even nature itself—has become a distant memory, Lagerfeld gave us flashes of the past as seen by the future: tweeds wantonly decaying into lavish fringing, ravishingly artificial floral trims, suits whose propriety was unhinged by proportion. You could imagine that this would stand for beauty in a world where people were wondering where all the flowers had gone. And not for nothing was it possible to track echoes of the collection Raf Simons showed for Dior yesterday. Both men are bent on the same course. It’ll be thanks to designers like them that couture will still prevail even when we’re all living under a dome in a galaxy far, far away. Lagerfeld nailed it backstage: “Keep the best, forget the rest.”