Karl Lagerfeld’s Final Chanel Show
It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. Alexander McQueen and Azzedine Alaïa have paved the way.
PARIS — They came for Karl Lagerfeld’s final Chanel show — his final grand act — in tweeds and pearls, camellias and diamanté double Cs. They came wearing Chanel sneakers and sci-fi silver Chanel bootees, Chanel belts and Chanel bags. Anna Wintour came in a long blush pink Chanel suit, and Janelle Monáe came in Egyptian-inspired multicolored sparkling kalasiri from the Temple of Dendur collection.
Chanel has always attracted more customers than perhaps any other show in the entire fashion season, and those loyalists and dedicated shoppers have always gloried in displaying their finery. But never has the space under the luminous glass dome of the Grand Palais seemed such a sea of bouclé.
And when they came, almost an hour before the 10:30 a.m. show was scheduled to start, they found a dozen Swiss wood chalets set high against a backdrop of towering mountains, some chimneys emitting puffs of smoke, all surrounded by drifts of snow burying the runway beneath. Chanel skis and poles jutted from little hillocks amid 50 gray/green firs and lampposts dusted in white. According to reports from inside the house, Mr. Lagerfeld knew he was dying when he planned this show along with Virginie Viard, his former right hand, now the heir to his mantle.
Together, they created a genuine moment of peace.
Then wind chimes began to play. After came a minute of silence, broken by the sounds of Mr. Lagerfeld’s voice over the sound system — his familiar staccato fast-forward torrent speech — whereupon down the steps of the Chalet Gardenia the models came. They were led by Cara Delevingne, one of Mr. Lagerfeld’s favorites.
They were wearing?
Voluminous soft tweed coats in black and white, and high-waisted pleated pants with room to stride, hands in pockets. Short legging-like knickers under skinny minidresses and matching cropped jackets for a narrower silhouette. Sweater dresses knit in three-dimensional Nordic patterns, No. 5s winked at within. Zip-up ski tops with crystalline patterns composed of actual crystals. Puffer jackets in primary shades (including bright purple). Shearling double-C fanny packs and snow boots. Snowflake hair jewelry.
Mist-like chiffon dresses were printed with tiny figures of skiers and CC chair lifts; tuxedos came in white duchess satin with an icy shine; and “snow-ball dresses” (so-named by the brand) of marabou and chiffon, the bodices embroidered in gold snowflakes. The actress Penélope Cruz walked in one, a white rose clutched in her hand. For the finale, David Bowie’s “Heroes” played.
Chanel: Fall 2019
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There were tears, in the audience and from many models. But it was not funeral. Nor was it retrospective. It was classic Chanel, the Lagerfeld way: merchandised, tongue-in-chic, replete with ideas, alternately delicate and clumpy, forward-looking and connected to the past. Almost cinematic in scale. Free of angst.
But, despite the standing ovation, no one came out to take a bow.
Nothing had changed — Chanel has been adamant that nothing will change; the team and Ms. Viard, who was given equal credit for the collection with Mr. Lagerfeld in the show notes, will work as always — and yet something had. On every chair was a packet (there was always a packet) with assorted photographs of looks in the collection and a reproduction of a sketch Mr. Lagerfeld had done once upon a time of himself, walking side by side with Coco Chanel. He was wearing black shades, ponytail and stiff white collar; she was in a camellia-trimmed hat and quilted bag. Over their heads was a scrawl reading, “The beat goes on.”
Just inevitably to a different tune.
How you preserve the guiding spirit of the house without the individual who defined it for so many years is the struggle for any brand that has lost its champion while still in situ (not after the designer decided to step down, or sell up). There are precedents for Chanel’s plan, however, and they are positive.