One definition of superb haute couture is that it’s the art of making impossibly difficult things seem as if they just—poof!—happened that way naturally. That’s precisely how Karl Lagerfeld’s spring haute couture was, a pleasingly unforced blooming of Chanel flower ideas set in an artificial hothouse. The Chanel conservatory was planted with mechanical plants which (gasp!) opened up and produced origami flowers before our very eyes, a naively childlike moment of transient entertainment, which, of course took an army of experts to engineer. “I thought of it six months ago, in a flash,” said Lagerfeld, cross-examined after the show. “There are 300 machines here under our feet, one to make each flower work.” It is exactly the same with the ridiculously intense inventive work that goes into every inch of Chanel couture embroidery on the runway, as he pointed out. Karl comes up with the vision—in this case, a fusion of Henri Matisse’s cutouts of leaves and 3-D paper Chinese lanterns—and then the ateliers apply themselves to figuring out how the minutiae of such structures can be faithfully conjured up in fabric.
Yet it’s a whole other thing to be able to turn all that into living, breathing, relevant fashion. Which is what made this collection so convincing: It was essentially a bunch of young girls walking around in clothes you could believe they might choose themselves: cropped jackets and tops over low-slung tutus or pencil skirts. All were worn with the same low-heeled, ankle-hugging black boots—the key to the cool of it. How to describe them? As clinging things with the low-key softness of a pair of leather socks? Words can’t really capture what it was that made the girls look as if they weren’t just pretending to inhabit the clothes, it was just down to the way they were walking, as girls of their generation do today on every street. A walk articulated from the hips, with several inches of abs on display. As Lagerfeld quipped, “The stomach is the new cleavage!”
It’s that kind of social observation, applied to the most extremely accomplished craftsmanship, which can result in a believable, lively beauty. A rare hothouse specimen of a kind not often found, even at haute couture.