“After the supermarket . . . ” said Karl Lagerfeld on the eve of his show as he flourished his iPhone images of the outrageously grandiose “Boulevard Chanel” set conceived for the spring presentation: a cement and macadam Paris rue, with life-size Haussmannian buildings looming above the sidewalks. “I like the fact that people think I’m insane,” he chuckled. “Next time, I make some minimalistic things, no?” Don’t hold your breath. Baz Luhrmann, here with his wife Catherine Martin, describes Lagerfeld as “The Imaginator,” and so he is. In the crowded Chanel atelier on the Rue Cambon, it is seven in the evening, the show is at 10:30 the following morning—and there are still 40 girls (from a line-up of 90 no less) to be fitted. The atmosphere is chaotic but industrious. We are being shown the witty new Girl bag, cut like the classic Chanel jacket to sling around a waist or shoulders like a shrugged-on cardigan. “Unlimited possibilities,” says Lagerfeld. One girl has a dress made of embroidered steel-colored lozenges with tiny flowers sewn between them. “It’s pavement embroidery,” Lagerfeld explains, “because it’s all about the street.”
“It’s not a fashion show in the normal way,” he tells Kirsten Owen, “so you walk like you were in the street, doing shopping or something.” These are unsettling times in French politics, and Lagerfeld’s concept is to set his girls loose in the “street” with protest megaphones (Chanel quilted-leather, of course), and boom boxes providing the opening sound track of the show. Their banners, meanwhile, carry such piquant messages as “Tweed we need!,” “Make fashion not war!,” and “Votez Coco!” (there are slogan purses and pins to match). Scaffolding across one façade supports the runway lights, and “standing room” guests are crowded behind metal police barricades.
And the clothes? “It’s idealized real life,” explains Amanda Harlech. “Clothes for every single woman-girl.”
That means long-jacketed, wide-leg tweedy and pinstripe pantsuits—some of them softened with exquisitely embroidered white-work and lace fichus like historic regional dress. (There are frothy Romantic Biedermeier blouses to wear with crisp pin-stripe shorts, too.) “Feministe mais feminine,” one banner reads. And it means fabulous rainbow warriors in watercolor-splash prints and tweeds miraculously ignited with embroidery of multicolored ribbons, or in classic Chanel suits with nosegays of tiny silk flowers replacing the traditional braid. There are suede sahariennes and origami patchworks of black-and-white organza. There is daisy lace, and black-and-white pleats that resemble a piano’s keyboard.
In turn, it’s the individuality of the girls that’s emphasized; hairdresser Sam McKnight and the makeup artist created unique looks for every model.
At the finale of the exhilarating show, Chaka Khan’s upbeat anthem “I’m Every Woman” blared out over the sound system. Karl, The Great Imaginator.