Smoke. Mirrors. Showtime. Without a doubt, showmanship is as much a part of fashion shows as are the clothes. Set the stage just right, grab and direct an audience’s attention to the right places, and they’ll leave convinced that they’ve just seen the greatest collection ever. Match P.T. Barnum-style showmanship with a legendary label such as Chanel and one might just get away with sending absolutely nothing down the runway and still get rave reviews.

Not that Karl Lagerfeld is guilty of sending nothing down the runway. There’s plenty here to talk about. However, the most narcissistic designer in all of fashion ramped up the show to unbelievable heights this morning, to the point he probably could have gotten away with showing nothing at all.  Yet, he didn’t. There were clothes and a lot of them.

Set in the Grand Palais, Lagerfeld first created his own art museum. Over 100 pieces based on different Chanel themes, from oversized handbags to a Chanel No. 5 robot (reference 1980’s Alli Sheedy movies if you miss the connection), to gold chains on a shower. Everyone who entered the doors was consumed with the art.

When the show finally started, the audience still had objects d’ art on their mind and focused on the new Chanel backpack Cara Delevigne carried down the runway, Sam Rollinson’s rainbow eye make-up, or the pearl necklace fashioned like earbuds around Miranda Kerr’s neck. The round toe court shoe with silk stockings also got a lot of attention. The clothes themselves were colorful, revisionist versions of Chanel classics, primarily the tweed suit. While tweed was in abundance throughout the collection, more often than not it was frayed or modestly deconstructed to give it a more cool, contemporary feel. Some were even tossed off shoulders for added effect. Cashmere knits played well over leather trousers in various shades of pink and grey, and denim even made a brief appearance. What is likely to be best received are the silk dresses covered in swatches of color too well organized to represent a painter’s smock, but still fun and bright and different from all the previous pieces – a quite welcome change.

Post show conversation still centered around the spectacle. The few comments I heard that were actually about the clothes tended to be rather dismissive. Yet, I think the collection falls right in line with where the entire Chanel brand has been of late. Go to the Chanel web site and one finds a five-part retrospective of Coco Chanel as, once again, Lagerfeld revises history to suit his own aging vision. This spring/summer line, in a very real way, achieves the same purpose. The clothes shown today demonstrate a very creative design team behind the spectacle that is Karl Lagerfeld, one that will keep the brand lively and vital even after he’s gone. While the old man quickly jumps out front to steal all the credit, as with other aging designers, it is the work of several talented young people that are keeping the label alive. The work they are doing is good, even without the spectacle.

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