Karl Lagerfeld creates ruined theatre for Chanel haute couture show

Bombed-out scene in Grand Palais, complete with piles of rubble, brings dreamlike intensity to designer's creations

To call a Chanel haute couture production a catwalk show would be to do Karl Lagerfeld a disservice. It would be like calling the Place Vendôme a roundabout, or Versailles a country cottage. There is a scale of ambition when Lagerfeld creates for Chanel that is on a quite different level to that operated on by any other designer. (It is a different level, indeed, to the scale Lagerfeld operates on when he designs under his own name, or for Fendi.) And there is no doubt that it pays dividends: the Chanel atelier, where the haute couture dresses are made, has recently expanded to keep up with demand. In London, the brand recently opened a three-storey Bond Street flagship, complete with a giant art installation of dripping pearls.

For his latest extravaganza, Lagerfeld recreated the shell of a burnt- or bombed-out theatre. Hidden within the Grand Palais was a full-sized theatre which guests entered to find the plush curtains drawn, the floor banked to allow all a clear view of the stage, the ceiling blasted away to allow sunlight to stream through from the domed glass roof of the Grand Palais. In between the rows of vintage wooden seats – to which the seat numbers of each guest had been screwed in tiny antiqued brass plaques – were prettily dishevelled piles of rubble. In the aisles, ushers handed out programmes from wicker ice-cream baskets.

The effect of such elaborate, immersive scene-setting is that the audience experience is one of an almost dreamlike intensity. At many catwalk shows, the personality of the fashion designer is something glimpsed only briefly when he or she takes a bow; here, it was all around, heavy in the fake-brick-dust-laden air the audience breathed.

Chanel couture show: Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld acknowledges applause at the Chanel show. Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

The message of the collection, said Lagerfeld, was of the old world meeting the new. So the curtains opened to reveal a backdrop of a futuristic skyline, city landmarks from London, Dubai and Shanghai merging together. The tall, column silhouettes came in skyscraper shades of steel and iron, belts dropped to hip height to create a long straight line. The effect – especially when the sun caught the rows of tiny sequins, fracturing the light in the way that sunlight catches on glass – was that the models looked like walking versions of the buildings on the theatrical backdrop.

Lagerfeld never deigns to be pinned down to just one era, or even two. The dropped waists and spaghetti straps were slightly 1920s, while the squared-off hats and striped-on makeup had something of the 1980s London Blitz club look about them. But the real point was the notion of one era imagining a future one. So there were elements of Star Trek, and visual references to Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film classic Metropolis. Lagerfeld, who has a collection of memorabilia of the film, took it as inspiration for a couture show two years ago, and there were echoes of that collection here, in the gunmetal greys, and angular hairstyles.

Above all, of course, this was an event firmly rooted in 2013. Two shows were held in order to accommodate not one but two front row special guests. Rihanna held court for the paparazzi at the first show, Kristen Stewart did the honours at the second, without any need for an unseemly battle for celebrity supremacy, and with a corresponding doubling of publicity for all. Everyone's a winner – especially, of course, Karl.


Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

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