Let there be light. No designer is as primed for that kind of heavenly decree as Karl Lagerfeld, and he heeded the call with a Chanel collection that was positively luminous in its delicacy and sparkle. Dresses that looked spun from gossamer (“morning dew on spiderwebs” was his cohort Amanda Harlech’s more lyrical metaphor) weren’t fabric; they were pieces of embroidery. Ten million beads were used in all. The result was literally a cloth of light.
But light is not only illumination; it’s also a lack of heaviness. There was a precise, balletic grace to the shifts, the tops, the fitted jackets, and floating chiffons, all of them built on sequined leggings. And every model walked in a ballet flat. “Just the point of the shoe,” Lagerfeld was quick to point out. It was bound to the ankle by transparent straps, and it completely changed the attitude of the show. All those teenage models who look like ball-breaking vixens in their face paint and vertiginous heels when they walk for other designers were suddenly turned back into pretty girls in flat soles and clothes the color of a dawn sky. “I was sick of all those Eiffel Towers, sick of all those violent colors,” said Lagerfeld.
He dazzlingly wove his antidote to current fashion orthodoxy into the fabric of the house. Artist Marie Laurencin was his inspiration. In 1923, she designed Les Biches, a ballet commissioned by Diaghilev with a scenario by Cocteau. Chanel was designing Le Train Bleu for the ballet impresario at the same time. She asked Laurencin to paint her. The languor and sweetness of the portrait that came from the sitting weren’t pleasing to Chanel, but Lagerfeld seized on those qualities to reinterpret her ethos in a way that was paradoxically provocative and modest. The pink bouclé suit, the drop-waist dress, the sugary, rough-edged tweeds were fragile where Chanel herself was steely.
Lagerfeld himself acknowledged the dichotomy when he paraded Stella Tennant like the Black Queen in a gown of sequined chevrons, but his heart clearly lay with the White Queen Freja, whose coat-dress looked like it had been stitched from ice crystals. Then, at show’s end, he massed his models on the steps of a simulacrum of the iconic Rue Cambon salon. He has made Chanel’s world his own.