Under the great domed glass roof of the Grand Palais in Paris, Karl Lagerfield created a leafy fairytale forest for his spring-summer Chanel haute couture collection, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento
MODELS drifted out of the woodland like elfin sprites into an open clearing before disappearing back into the gloaming. “I wanted a magical forest mixed with an antique theatre made of wood,” said Lagerfield after the show. “I saw it in a dream, put the idea on paper, made a sketch and gave it to the man who builds my sets. I think he made it beautifully. I didn’t want the usual runway with the models walking out one after the other with military speed. This was a more romantic catwalk”.
Although Raf Simons’ collection for Dior was also set among trees and curving hedges of bright green box, it was much lighter and more effervescent. Lagerfield created a darker, more Gothic mood. The woodland was wilder with looming Holm oaks and Scots pines and the clothes were more dramatic with Lagerfield’s inspiration veering from lacy Victorian tea gowns to brightly-patterned 1970s style prints.
The gauzy dresses and the models' dark eyes ringed by a feathery patch and bouffant Edwardian hair all added to the sense of historical drama. A scholar of fashion history, Lagerfield draws from an ample visual archive to inspire and create avant-garde designs that are both contemporary and still linked to the Chanel tradition.
This season’s collection mixed materials like black Chantilly lace with cream bouclé and thigh-high leather boots. The long, clinging boots were also made of the same material as the dresses or gold lame and net with peep-toes. Column dresses that looked like prints from a distance were actually covered in thousands of hand-beaded, embroidered and sequined flowers and then cinched at the waist with slim red belts.
Opening the show were dresses in white, black and navy but also in subtly sparkling metallic colours. “There were silvery, goldish and off-white materials but they were not tweeds but woven ribbons of silk, tulle and satin," said Lagerfield. "These materials are totally weightless and all made by hand - there is not one you can buy in a shop."
The designs were all connected to the theme of the forest with leaves, flowers and feathers all forming decorative elements of the clothes. Tailored bell-like skirts and tops that stood away from the body were constructed like the petals of a flower. The gowns and eveningwear were either full-skirted and made of lace and white feathers or slim Thirties’ sheathes covered in red, black and white sequins of flowers.
“I love embroidery," explained Lagerfield. "And I love the idea of making embroidery like a print. It is the top of sophistication. Nobody would think that the flowers could take two thousand hours to make. But the skirts are very light even though they have half a million little sequins on them."
Collars and lapels were wide and the necklines filled with panels of white embroidery, beading or tulle finely pleated and covered in tiny pearls. Feathers and strands of chiffon fell in soft folds over the front of the models hair that Lagerfield said was inspired by a portrait of Coco Chanel.
The focus of this collection was the shoulders and making them look beautiful. Long dresses with white beaded yokes and straight black necklines served to heighten and emphasize both the neck and shoulders. “I wanted to show the real neck and shoulder and give some volume to the silhouette," Lagerfield said. "Some of the evening dresses have white embroidery close to the neck that is like a light reflector in a photographic studio. It is very becoming."
Most of the peep-toe boots were tight and in silver leather and lace and either climbed the whole length of the leg or came as short ankle boots. “There were dresses that seemed like they had tight pants underneath," Lagerfield said. "But no they were not pants but boots, half in lace and the other half in the material of the skirt. I like the idea of using high boots but open like sandals then a big zip behind like a seam at the back of a stocking.”
As a finale to the show, Lagerfield sent out not one bride but two dressed in filmy white gowns of lace and feathers, making both a political and an aesthetic statement.
Click on photographs for full-screen slideshow