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Lagerfeld's Top Three Chanel Haute Couture Shows

Sophie Elkus |
January 21, 2012 | 4:31 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Season after season, the Chanel Haute Couture runway shows embody everything a fashion insider expects from high couture and more. What draws the famed French house from the rest is its ability to revolutionize the show from the typical monotonous twelve-minute parade of looks into a theatrical spectacle of sound, light and movement. Engineered by mastermind creative director Karl Lagerfeld, each shows’ location, atmosphere, design and decoration have become as crucial as the designs themselves. Lagerfeld proves, especially during his latest three spectacles, the Paris-Bombay 2011-2012, the Spring-Summer 2012 and Fall-Winter 2011-2012, that these intricate details are what propels his clothing into not only a tangible work of art, but a short realm of imagination, transportation and metamorphosis for each viewer lucky enough to witness the magic.

A look from the Spring-Summer 2012 Collection
A look from the Spring-Summer 2012 Collection

The house’s most recent show, the December 11th Paris-Bombay 2011-2012 Métiers d’Art presentation, channeled inspiration from Indian deities, the rich colors and spices of Indian culture, and the exquisite jewels adorning the interior of its famous palaces. Paris’ Grand Palais, Lagerfeld’s typical venue of choice, was transformed into the theatrical set of a royal’s chamber complete with a feast of colorful dinner tables worthy of a raj himself. Models passed the tables wearing designs both respectful and reminiscent of the traditional Indian splendor of fashion, with plenty of shining gold lamé fabric, sari-esque draping of dresses, intricate beadwork and jewels. The colors, however, was less expected and increasingly modern. Viewers were offered a taste of the styles of chic New Delhi couture lovers who frequent the bustling city in shades of black, crème, and grey; shades that come as no surprise from a man who knows the value of a classic black and ivory palette.

Similarly to Paris-Bombay, the Spring-Summer 2012 Ready-To-Wear collection took viewers out of their seats and into an alternate, imaginary world. This time, it was below water’s surface and into an oasis that Karl called “the ground of the sea, but in a very poetic way.” Models passed life-size clear “bubbles,” algae and coral on the runway, which complimented their dewy and pearlescent ensembles. A menu of seafoam-inspired colors such as pale green, delicate rose and mother of pearl balanced the subtle waves of sophisticated grey tones that also appeared on skirts, jackets and dresses. Lagerfeld’s pieces evoked the chic and graceful silhouettes come to be expected from Chanel but with an aquatic twist conceived for the presentation, using unexpected materials like seaweed ribbon and iridescent organza to mimic the image of light passing through water. The metamorphosis from earth to sea was not complete without otherworldly hair and makeup either: the label’s iconic pearls seen frequently on jackets and jewelry were transformed into accessories of beauty, pinned and braided into models’ hair. In typical Chanel fashion, the show’s finale was no letdown as British singer Florence Welch appeared out of an oyster shell wearing a silvery gown to serenade the audience. Inevitable mental images of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus masterpiece were likely no coincidence.

A far cry from the flowy, weightless feel of moving through water was the darker serenity and onimous vibe of the Fall 2011-2012 Haute Couture show. The Place Vendome's outline was recreated inside the Grand Palais, topped with a statue of founder Coco Chanel and a ceiling of glittery night stars. The scene conveyed a feeling of mystery worthy of the clothes; one could imagine a chic woman dashing across a city street at dusk clad in an understated yet unforgettable suit or a long evening gown adorned with sequins and sensual lace. Lagerfeld's designs rang true to the label's virtuous tweeds in classic shades of grey, navy, and black, with moments of demure rose to break up the monotomy of deep shades. As for the silhouettes, Lagerfeld's classic suit was rebirthed into a tricky illusion of trompe l'oeil with detachable seperates like a bustier and matching skirt. In a moment of fashion forecasting, the show featured the popular peplum shilhouttes that are now currently just breaking out from couture houses into department stores as a go-to shape for spring. 

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