Chanel HAUTE COUTURE FALL/WINTER 2015

The high rollers strolled into the casino, swathed in millions of dollars worth of diamonds, and sat at the tables under an Art Deco ceiling and started to play. It could have been any time of the day or night, anywhere in the world where the super wealthy disport themselves behind closed doors—or a scene loaded with the decadent frisson of a Helmut Newton shoot from the seventies or eighties. Actually: This was the latest living installation at the Grand Palais to have sprung from the imagination of that great croupier of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld. And the members of the “Circle Privé”? A constellation of actors and modeling aristocracy:Julianne Moore, Geraldine Chaplin, Vanessa Paradis, Stella Tennant, Alice Dellal,Lara Stone, and others—each wearing a couture piece designed specifically for them and led out by Kristen Stewart, in a gaminely enviable black velvet pantsuit. And all of them dripping in diamond jewelry, recreated from Coco Chanel‘s original 1932 designs.

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Is Karl Lagerfeld a betting man? “Not with money,” he quipped. “I gamble with collections!” The casino idea came to him, he said, when Chanel asked him to find a way to integrate the jewelry into the show. It was a perfectly drawn metaphor operating on multiple levels—the “private circle” of people who can afford couture and precious jewels, the focus on elegant evening dress rather than jokey pop culture, the overarching edge of tension in playing for money. For the stakes in luxury fashion (apologies for the pun) are this year at an all-time high, with so many major corporations locked in competition to produce the most extreme, most memorable “experiences.” It can’t exactly be a case of winner takes all—more a contest for who can scoop the largest volumes of imagery and chat, and for how long, and (presumably) who can magnetize the most people to buy their perfumes and lipsticks, rather than the other brands’.

To completely hit the jackpot as a designer, though (and yes, there were slot machines lining the Chanel casino), you also need to come up with a collection strong enough to focus the eye on the clothes. It’s always a bit of a giveaway when reviews and eyewitness accounts concentrate on raving over a sensational setting, while hardly mentioning that there might have been a collection to go with it.

So enough of the peripherals. This was a hands-down Lagerfeldian jackpot of a show—Chanel couture at its controlled and civilized best, worn by models who walked single file around the roulette and blackjack tables. True, there was a distraction at the beginning—Lagerfeld had been experimenting with 3-D printingto generate quilted, seamless jackets. But the context of the casino meant that everything needed to look classy rather than avant-garde—and that worked wholly to the advantage of Lagerfeld. It gave him the chance to present an almost eighties silhouette—epauletted ivory pencil-skirted suits haven’t looked this good for decades. It allowed him to rethink a chic evening-pant look (such options, likewise, haven’t been available for half a generation), and to concentrate on a zillion alternative cocktail silhouettes, from a lovely tank dress with soft, pearl-embroidered tiers to a white-collared navy guipure lace midi coatdress. “I like the dressy effect,” Lagerfeld mused at the end of it all. So, surely, will his couture customers. When all is said and done, who would not want to bet her money on a long-lasting classic?

Backstage

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