Other originators at this season’s Paris fashion week are miffed that the attires on the catwalk have struggled for airtime, overshadowed by the drama episode in the wings. Karl Lagerfeld, however, demonstrated how Chanel recalls its position as the biggest show in Paris by turning the off-catwalk commotion into arc lighting for Chanel.
The two big stories of fashion week are the blogger backlash, a row which is a microcosm of how the digital era has disrupted the go, and the new “model-free” issue of British Vogue, featuring “real” people.
Chanel’s paper for Tuesday’s show, staged at the Grand Palais, was the digital men – hardly lightbulb moment stuff, since it doesn’t submit to much insight to clock its impact on fashion, in the season of see now, buy now. But what was stimulating was that Lagerfeld, who owns four iPhones and about 30 iPads – involving one used by his cat, Choupette – focused not on our intimate relationship with the matey screens in our pockets, but on the slightly sinister, unknowable might of observations centres and server racks.
And he opened the accumulation, pointedly, not with a supermodel with millions of Instagram promoters, but with an anonymous woman in a white plastic robot camouflage, gloves and boots, who appeared to have based her look on a span between a stormtrooper and Thomas Bangalter from Daft Vandal.
The invitation to the show featured the brand’s double C logo set up from colourful modem cables, twisted together until they abraded like the bouclé wool of Chanel’s famous skirt fill someones needs, and the grand Beaux Arts interior of the Grand Palais was accepted a Silicon Valley makeover: all brushed steel, smooth whitish surfaces, snaking coils of cables and flickering screens.
The surmount of the set, and the sense of computing as something alien rather than domestic and everyday, made the catwalk feel more retro than futuristic. The soundtrack was I Suffer Love by Donna Summer, the Giorgio Moroder game changer that set music on a new game plan in 1977. That was six years before Lagerfeld joined Chanel, and the flap still sounds relevant today, which was perhaps his objective.
The retro mood was overt in the styling. Models in skewed baseball caps and side ponytails garbed medallions around their necks in the style of the Beastie Old crumpets’ Licensed to Ill era. (That the medallions could be reconfigured as modern office-pass lanyards totaled a layer of modern, e-surveillance paranoia.) Handbags were emulated on robots of a Star Wars vintage. But the clothes were ideal Chanel: bouclé tweed suits worn shoulder-robed with boring boots, and silk tea dresses slit to the hip for this season’s on-trend show a clean pair of heel panels, in circuit board prints.