Karl Lagerfeld was absent from Chanel’s haute couture shows in Paris, fuelling speculation over the 85-year-old designer’s health.
Shortly before 11am on Tuesday, when the first of the two shows had ended without an appearance from Lagerfeld, an announcement was made that he was expected at the noon show, but this proved not to be the case.
“Mr Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, who was feeling tired, asked Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house, to represent him,” said a statement after the second show.
For the past year, Lagerfeld has made most of his catwalk appearances jointly with Viard, prompting talk of a succession. This was the first occasion on which Lagerfeld, who was well enough to travel to New York where he appeared on stage after a show in December, has missed a catwalk bow.
Even by the blockbuster standards of a Chanel show, this was a dramatic morning in Paris. Not content with creating a summer garden in January for the interior of the show, Lagerfeld and his team had dialled up the contrast by organising a picturesque snowfall to descend with perfect timing outside, carpeting the steps of the Grand Palais in white, heightening the impact of the summery oasis built inside.
Like a Marvel blockbuster, Chanel combines creativity with technical brilliance to make the impossible become possible. There was a party dress on this catwalk embroidered in real flowers preserved in resin to last forever. (The price tag of a dress such as this simply does not exist, although a six-figure bill would follow.)
The blue sky of the trompe l’oeil cyclorama that transformed the Grand Palais into an Italianate villa was painted, but the orange trees dotted around the swimming pool were the real thing; rented from nurseries in the countryside outside Paris, they will return to their original state after the show, like Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin.
The Villa Chanel, as it was called on invitations, was an opulent setting based on La Vigie, a Monte Carlo house at which Lagerfeld summered in the 1980s. Not that these were clothes much suited for lazing on sunloungers – the show opened with a series of pale tweed suits with long pencil skirts. The height of the models emphasised by piled-up beehives, the silhouette was as elegant and imposing as the cypress trees lining the pool.
After a detour into Jay Gatsby’s West Egg mansion via feathered boleros and daisy-strewn gowns, the show wound its way into a 1950s mood. The boleros were replaced by cropped leather jackets, the feathers by Pink Lady satins.
Lace dresses in the classic Corolla shape of 1950s couture, with a minimal corseted bustier and a full, slightly tulip-shaped skirt were stitched from lace so airy and light that the models seemed to float along the catwalk. The bridal outfit, which traditionally closes every haute couture show, was a sequinned swimsuit with a sweeping veil attached to an embroidered swimcap.
Lagerfeld, who began his career as an assistant to Pierre Balmain in 1955, joined Chanel in 1983. In his first season, he was reported to be “working 16 hours a day and delighted to do it”.
In a record-breaking 36 years at the house, he has succeeded in making Coco Chanel an even more famous and more central character in the story of fashion than she was during her lifetime. Chanel has two upcoming catwalk shows: one during the ready-to-wear collections in early March and another on 3 May. All eyes will be on who takes the end bow.
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