(images via ny mag)
i’ve always stated in the past (rather unequivocally, methinks) that while i’m no particular fan of karl lagerfeld, the man (see here if you need evidence of why), i’ll be forthright and honest about his talents, in particular as they apply to the house of chanel (see s/s 2010 hc, f/w 2010, f/w 2010 hc, resort 2011, s/s 2011, s/s 2011 hc, pre-fall 2011, f/w 2011, f/w 2011 hc, resort 2012). however, there is a downside in that so many fawning types (perhaps afraid of his influence, to say nothing of his barbed tongue) cannot see a wrong he produces and oft, or so it would seem to me, have their minds made up about a collection far in advance of the time it actually hits the catwalk. this has felt the case in the past couple of seasons, during which the man has, to say the least, felt off in his game. was this the end, i wondered, and were we, from now on, simply to endure the simpering with no superior clothes on the other end to redeem it?
to be sure, mr. lagerfeld has had an off season, from time to time in the past. but two or three in a row were virtually unheard of, and i was beginning to find my fingernails getting shorter when, once again, the man proved that behind all his viciously obnoxious comments there was one of the most beautiful fashion minds in the business ever a-spinning with his aquatic-themed s/s 2012 range. interestingly enough, a couple of other houses showing in paris—givenchy and alexander mcqueen—exhibited collections touching on similar themes, but (and you can see from this, considering the sarah burton fan that i am, just how sincere i’m being) neither was able, all the same, to touch chanel with mr. lagerfeld at the top of his craft as he was again for spring.
to set the stage, style explained that “(t)he Grand Palais was transformed by huge, blinding white sea shapes—corals, shells, sea horses, stingrays—and Florence Welch arose like Botticelli’s Venus on the half shell to sing…What the water gave Karl was the kind of acute overview that only he could turn into a dazzling collection. He’d been musing on the fact that forms as modern as anything designed by the architect Zaha Hadid have been shaped at the bottom of the ocean by natural processes taking millions of years…there was an impressive, graphic modernity shaped by lengthy natural processes (Karl’s thoughts) in most of the 80 or so outfits that strolled around today’s massive set. Lagerfeld said he wanted lightness. He’d used new fabrics even he didn’t know how to define. They brought an iridescent mother-of-pearl shimmer to the collection—the lightness literally shone through. That was also why Lagerfeld strung pearls, instead of belts, around waists. And Sam McKnight dotted pearls through the models’ slicked-back hair, too.”
a dreamy-eyed uk vogue described “delicate sea creatures darting out from the white in cream dresses of sea foam lace, pearlised tweed suits with full skirts and jackets cut shoulder-blade high at the back to show off pearl-studded spines, iridescent sequinned dresses falling to pale green ostrich feather skirts and chiffon finely gathered every which way across the bodices of dresses that had been caught in the tide. Handheld, pearl encrusted sea shells made for clutch bags that will surely be next season’s most desired status symbols, and silver leather ones were creased in every direction from the centre – twinkling like the sun had just caught the crest of a wave. Flat soled metallic silver booties, pearl belts and little bags dripping with silken seaweed coils accessorised these sea nymphets, and colour bled in by way of pink and black blurred coral bed prints. One dress rippled with black-edged, pink printed chiffon scales, another had puffed black lace sleeves and fell in tiers of pale sequins, its top half overlaid in translucent chiffon to camouflage it just slightly from a predator’s gaze.”
elle, meanwhile, pointed out that “(t)he ocean proved the perfect inspiration for Chanel and married beautifully with the house styles. In its simplest form, white woven elbow-length dresses came with a string of pearls as belts and waffle weave tops and swing skirts had a plastic piping zig zag across it. In its more elaborate guise, bubbly fabric which looked just like sea-foam clung to the body as if any moment it would disappear. Pearlescent boxy jackets had blown-out backs and a seaweed illustration was used on perspex swing macs, sexily revealing the swimwear beneath. The latter cocktails dresses were so intricate they could have been borne from a couture show. Organza was folded origami style to make a pleated dress, silver metal seaweed hemmed and bibbed a pastel blue shift, lace was designed to look like algae spiralling from hips and collars while pearls and beading were scattered liberally over the tops of pleated, colour swirl skirts.”
in a rather humorous moment, grazia gaped that “(almost) EVERYONE is wearing flats. Yes, really. Take a gawp at those sci-fi metallic booties with black zips up the front.” remembering that it’s chanel, though, and the concept of the chic little ballet flat hardly a foreign one, i wasn’t particularly sure why they were so stunned. however, i was nevertheless quite pleased to see heel-less footwear, not the least because it has been growing increasingly more medieval/class-distinction-y and weapon-like with the ‘only extreme fashion lubricates the will to buy’-style recession economy thinking. but, as mr. lagerfeld is wont to do the reverse of what others are doing (as with the clog movement of s/s 2010), only to see them follow him, this bodes good things for those inclined to flats, indeed.
elsewhere, the telegraph merrily beckoned to “(b)ring on those 70 models in their whisper-light, silk gazaar jewelled dresses and airy loosely woven tweed, flared, cropped jackets and gathered skirts, as they marched around giant shells and fish to Wagner’s Valkyrie. The theme was aquatic and Lagerfeld didn’t spare the (sea) horses. Glorious iridescent weaves, rippling ruffles, metallic Chelsea boots and an almost entirely creamy, nacreous coloured collection. As ever, you get a bit of everything with a Chanel show – narrow skirts, fuller ones, dresses, a strong statement about white, but also some aqua, a bit of black and a dollop of pink. But overwhelmingly it was about lightness – and those feathery tweeds and chiffon ruches practically floated away. Pretty? You bet, but without being cloying. Those conch-shaped bags won’t be denting sales of the 2.5 anytime soon mind you, but everything else? Bellissima.”
and a similarly transfixed us vogue reported that “Lagerfeld deconstructed some of the house symbols. Coco’s iconic pearls were used as buttons or as belts to girdle his round-shouldered dresses, and Lagerfeld banished her signature braid trims altogether in place of fine black ribbon set in geometric blocks across pale suiting, a detail inspired by the ‘fabric paintings’ of German abstract artist Blinky Palermo…Lagerfeld worked with innovative techno fabrics to create the effect of light through water. Airy waffle-textured organzas and iridescent synthetics, open-weave tweeds and knits, and a palette of sea foam, shell pink, and mother-of-pearl (anchored with the inevitable black) created an otherworldly effect…changeante organza ribbons were appliquéd to trail across little shift dresses like seaweed swaying in a riptide; silvery embroideries or a frosting of nacreous sequins spilled down black dresses like the phosphorescence on a moonlit sea. Swimsuits were anchored by pearl clasps or veiled in clear plastic ‘virtual jackets’ printed with a tracery of fine black swirling lines like seaweed washed up on a seashore.”
we even found the nyt’s cathy horyn in a rousingly good mood. “This show had seemingly everything going for it,” she began, “beginning with Mr. Lagerfeld’s new pared-down suit silhouette: a lean skirt or dress in ivory or black wool worn with an opened, cropped jacket. No Chanel braiding or chains. One jacket was embroidered along the edges with slivers of mother-of-pearl, with the subtle decoration repeated on the matching dress. Jackets were closed with ties formed from the linings, often printed chiffon. Other jackets were sliced open in the back, among them a cool black motorcycle jacket shown with little shorts. Many fabrics had a glistening effect, achieved from fabrics woven, in some cases, with glass fibers or other materials that reflect Mr. Lagerfeld’s obsessive interest in techniques that give lightness to clothes. On the models’ feet were flat booties in silver leather or white with black lines. The shapes were soft, mostly short and slightly rounded, with a sense of mobility.”
showstudio launched into one of their epic reviews, the writer merrily prattling on, as they tend to do when excited: “once again his vision was all-encompassing, the models drenched in Chanel down to the terribly Coco pearls dotting hair and faces like air-bubbles, or running down the back of a bared spine like a row of buttons. It’s a mark of Lagerfeld’s continual genius at reinventing that Chanel tweed-suited wheel that neither those touches of theatricality, nor the elaborate aquarium set, nor Florence Welch…could distract attention from the clothes on show. Lagerfeld sucked the oceans dry for inspiration, his aesthetic exhausting every nook and cranny of the briny deep…The colours of the clothes were pulled from shells: pale pink, every shade of ivory, flashes of black and blues from the deepest navy to sun-bleached pastel. The iridescence of nacre was reflected (quite literally) in minute sequin embroideries, skirts swelling and cresting about the body.”
“There were also the visual puns Lagerfeld loves to throw out every now and again, the organza sliced into scales, the lace worked to look like seaweed crusting a model’s hips, the handbags shaped like clustered branches of coral or witty, oversized conch-shells. There was even a nod to wet-look, transparent PVC laid across jackets and inset into swimsuits…The lightness in these Chanel clothes was the striking thing, most marked in gossamer evening wear, chiffon skirts swirling around the legs like a tidal current, ruffle upon ruffle built up to resemble the ocean breaking against the shore. That evening statement was short and sweet, the flounced volume bubbling up around the knee, a way to make these complex dresses seem breezy and easy… Lagerfeld can cut tweed and make it look like chiffon. He can cut chiffon and make it light as air. Despite its entertaining visuals and textural richness, the really entrancing thing about this collection was that, despite Lagerfeld’s timeless design and the painstaking Chanel craftsmanship that means these clothes will last for centuries, the whole thing felt as ephemeral and fleeting as ocean spray.”
the wsj, which sometimes irritates me with the list-like ‘reviews’ and chronicles of celebrities packing the audience, was all agog at the prettiness, and here, ironically enough, their child-like sense of wonder seemed fitting (probably because everyone else was channeling some similar emotion). “This collection is a testament to textile technology. Iridescent threads and ribbons were woven into some fabrics, and others were spun to a frothy effect. Assembled in an outfit, the clothes were reminiscent of sea life—clams, seaweed and scaly fish. Shoes had heels shaped like round sea urchins,” they chirped, marveling over the idea that the “(m)odels had faux pearls attached to their hair and bodies, turning them into sea life as well.”
“They’re underwater. It’s very clean and pure and fresh. It’s an unpolluted aquarium,” allure quoted lead makeup artist ,” peter philips as saying. “Do you know Esther Williams, the underwater ballerina? She always had white kohl liner underneath her eyes, so I thought, ‘Let’s go with that’,” he added, as the site explained that he used “silver-flecked, sheer white cream shadow that made the eyes look wet…(t)here’s a touch of peach-pink blush on the cheeks and chin, just to separate the face from the neck.” they also noted that mr. lagerfeld encouraged mr. philips to create “pearl piercings,” so he “affixed Swarovski pearls to the ears, nose, and eyebrows using makeup glue.”
meanwhile, lead hairstylist sam mcknight said that his vision was of “classy mermaids. Chanel-maids! The pearls [in the hair] are Chanel pins. If you look closely, you’ll see the double Cs on them. Every girl is wearing seven or eight, so we’ve got about 800 altogether.” and though he was aiming for a damp look, in lieu of scraggly hanging strands like we most of us have when just emerging from the pool, he gave girls a mussed chignon. “Wet hair that’s down is a little sad. The idea is, you’re in the sea and come out, push your hair back, and throw it into a chignon.”
the la times writer was a bit whiny, expecting us to sympathize that they couldn’t be there (goodness knows, one can’t possibly write anything of value on a fashion show without having their boss foot the bill to sit courtside in a fancy get-up with all the other writers! the internet with all its hi-def photos can’t possibly provide opportunity to offer valuable insights, even when one is sitting far away! yes, we all of us internet writers know that well, right? but i digress!), and writing only that “(t)he angular accents on the suits looked fresh, offsetting the light, spongy tweeds in nearly irridescent colors. I also like the silver gladiator sandals, the chain-handle bag-as-wrapped-present and the pearls in the hair. Lagerfeld seemed to play a little with transparency on a couple of looks. And for evening, the sea of short dresses trimmed with petals and trailing streamers made the models look like wondrous creatures from the deep.”
“Suits,” proclaimed wwd, “included two new variations: one with a short, unconstructed jacket, the other, with a cutaway back. There were countless others, including a jaunty, pearl-encrusted tweed over a knit dress with fluffy tulle pom-poms and a sporty topper beaded to opalescent effect. Decorative motifs ran from spare (black lines forming random angles on dresses and suits) to girly (long, wide blue ribbons appliqué) to outright flamboyant (exuberant ruffles). And in seaworthy mode, Lagerfeld showed swimwear the Chanel way, all white and sometimes under the cover of plastic. Gorgeous though the clothes looked to the audience, full appreciation requires more intimate viewing, especially because the girls, all 70 of them, walked the show faster than Lagerfeld talks. They emerged from a domelike cave lined in iridescent bubbles. Next to that opening was perched a giant clam, and next to the clam, a harp, lacquered in white.”
and, finally, we have suzy menkes of the iht: “Mr. Lagerfeld plumbed the ocean depths and rose to fashion heights. He changed the Coco look from safe to sporty and introduced modern fabrics, like the eerie transparent plastic jacket cascading with stones that was worn so casually over a swimsuit. But, above all, the collection was indisputably and irrefutably Chanel, almost every piece turning on the pearl that is one of the Coco icons. ‘I love the sea — it’s very mysterious, and fish scales seem so modern; there was everything but mermaids!’ Mr. Lagerfeld backstage said… What could have been a kitsch romp on the ocean floor turned into a magical show where energy came from the sporty attitude of models who walked the white sand space in silver shoes with conch-shaped heels. The swell of waves was caught in a blue pattern that broke the surf-white color palette.”
“By replacing the signature Chanel chains with the equally iconic pearls, Mr. Lagerfeld lightened up the day wear. The show started with the Chanel suit, stripped of chains and gilding, the jackets cropped short to a waist belted with pearls and with sleeves ending above the wrist. Linear dresses crisscrossed with graphic lines sung less of the sea than of a modern cityscape. But a return of fitted jackets, worn over skirts frothing with feather-light fabric, was a spirited way to move into evening. The workmanship of the lacy and mesh dresses was so light that they could have dressed sprites on a sandy beach rather than sophisticates for cocktails. This tour de force highlighted the power and energy of a brand that Mr. Lagerfeld seems to have right under his skin. For Chanel — and for fashion — the designer is a pearl beyond price.”
so there you have it. once again, or so it would seem, virtually everyone with any association at all with the fashion industry—or just the ability to hack away a few letters at a computer—was thoroughly transfixed by mr. lagerfeld’s spring work. but unlike in the past couple of seasons, which have been a little uneven, this was deserved as could be, and one of the designer’s most superior ranges of recent years. true, we could argue that with all the shell motifs (and how many people did that florence welch-as-venus comparison?) and pearls, there was something a little ham-handed, but even then i’m not sure that would be fair, given how delicately it was treated (and frankly, just how exquisite everything looked). so we’ll pull it up as another win. we shouldn’t begrudge him that, because, after all, he deserves it, and to be honest, i’d rather he earn his reputation than simply acquire it through his position of power. after all, this way, really, everyone wins.
(watch the complete runway show video here & see additional images at t magazine)