CHANEL Fall/Winter 2019

by Long Nguyen

In the vast open air space of the Grand Palais now decorated with mini wooden Swiss chalets surrounded by the main cabin house ‘Chanel Gardenia’, giant panels displaying high mountaintops covered with snow and all fake white snow at least two inches thick on the ground, a minute of silence seemed a great deal longer to pause and remember Karl Lagerfeld who has led Chanel since 1983.  Apparently he declined the first offer thirty seven years ago but then accepted when the Chanel owners proposed a second time making fashion history in every way imaginable.  There was a moment of silence after a procession of ringing and chiming of small bells and then the voice of Karl Lagerfeld in an interview where he was asked about when he first joined the house as to why he would be willing to work at such a dusty fashion company. According to many experts at the time, the venture would simply never work to turn Chanel into a modern high fashion brand.  Obviously, the naysayers then were clearly and perhaps totally in the wrong. 

The magic that Lagerfeld deployed over more than three and a half decades taking Chanel to the top of the fashion food chain has no comparison, his legacy is simply too numerous to start naming.  Lagerfeld created the business model for Chanel that now has become the standard bearer and more than anyone he had the innate understanding and the wisdom to change style way ahead of anyone and above all take the risks by bringing Chanel into the current conversation of fashion. Remember the surf collections for Spring Summer 1990 with Linda Evangelista in a blue sequin Chanel version of a scuba jacket and stretch surf shorts, Cindy Crawford in cut out denim for Spring Summer 1994, and Tatiana Patiz, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington in the Fall/Winter 1991 punk rock collection. Iconic with all these supermodels at the time on the runway all wearing clothes inspired directly from the underground and the subculture that at the time was revolutionary for a luxury house.  

Today’s final tribute with a show consisted of just precisely seventy two looks about fifteen percent less than the usual mid eighties, something that might indicate that Viriginie Viard did not add additional looks to the ones she and Karl had worked on together as a team.  

Cara Delevingne opened the show leading a small cast of models all wearing the new version of the traditional Chanel tweeds, this time tweeds upon tweeds upon tweeds, but each season acquired new shapes – the skirt of the tweed skirt-suit was now a pant and the entire silhouette was loose and roomy but not oversize like the white and black loose pants, blouse and large overcoat, charcoal grey double breasted coat with sweater and loose wool pants, or a matching grey and reddish brown wool checkered coat and pant with silk white blouse.  In fact there were very few of the usual tweed skirt-suit anywhere in sight – an aqua blue suit with below the knee skirt and a red biker jacket with a skirt. The loose silhouette is very much where fashion is now but done in the chic and elegant Chanel manner little compromise.  The leather hiking mountain boots with shearling tops anchored the alpine theme show of clothes for ‘elegant mountain dwellers’ but surely not exclusively them.  The strength of the outerwear lay mainly the variety of woolen coats – charcoal coats with over fold sleeve and collar, black and white tweed coat, or a red and blue windowpane and houndstooth stripes coats – all as shields for the mountain cold or for that matter city cold especially when there is a polar vortex. And for after ski, there was the simple khaki Nordic motif cardigan paired with loose wool pants as one of a few choices for those who chose just to hang out rather than ski.  

Evening dressing was kept to a series of simple linear dresses with minimal embellishments, like those white chiffon dresses with mini patterns or that black cape with black vinyl pants and white silk blouse.  The actress and current Chanel campaign model Penélope Cruz wore a white tiered cashmere sweater with a white feather skirts and carried a white rose in her left hand as she led an all white segment of great evening ensembles that included perforated leather floral tops with feather short skirt or a simple cropped white pantsuit with silver belt and a large necklace in lieu of a blouse.  

As to the agility of the Chanel brand to adopt street style but made them completely unique are the series of mixed tweed jackets, t-shirt blouse, skirt and skinny biker shorts just below the knees just like the way guys would wear tights underneath their shorts for a run or gym session.  This is somewhat unique to Chanel – the way Lagerfeld absorbed what’s current and make them totally Chanel in his own way.  For Lagerfeld’s final collection, this is not an exception but the rule.  I sat next to Stella Tenant who told me that, “Lagerfeld loved to break the rules because in doing so something new was created each time.” Surely that meant also the rules that have governed what a luxury brand represents.  

It was indeed so fitting that the show ended in all majestic whites that encompassed both day and evening looks.  This gesture did not go unnoticed among the many Asians in the audience, myself included, that in Asia white is the color for funeral.  Alesso’s song ‘Heroes’ played as the audience stood for a standing ovation for a designer who always looked ahead and refused to look in the rear mirror to the past. In the white folder with photographs of the show looks was a sketch that Lagerfeld drew a while back with figures of himself and Coco Chanel with the caption ‘The beat goes on …”

For the moment and perhaps during this long transition, the house current design director Virginie Viard has been appointed to take over the direction of the collections and that’s comforting to provide a stable platform for the future and for the continuity of the business.  But eventually and in the longer term, Chanel would need a new leader, one with foresight, one with design acuity and one with an acumen for sensing the changes in taste and desire in popular culture as creating fashion is much more than a firm command of craftsmanship.  

Photos courtesy of Chanel