Karl Lagerfeld’s new look for Chanel: feminist protest and slogans

The designer’s typically elaborate show at Paris fashion week featured a faux street, complete with banner-waving models and guard rails. What was he trying to say?

Karl Lagerfeld, who once dismissed concerns over size-zero models as the whinings of “fat mommies with bags of crisps”, is an unlikely champion of feminism as a fashionable issue. How, then, to interpret his Chanel catwalk show at Paris fashion week, which closed with a megaphone-wielding Cara Delevingne leading a model army chanting for freedom, the Kardashian-clan catwalk star Kendall Jenner holding a banner reading Women’s Rights are More than Alright, and a sea of placards reading Ladies First, History is Her Story, We Can Match the Machos and Boys Should Get Pregnant Too?

Cara Delevingne with a loudspeaker at the Chanel spring/summer 2015 show
Cara Delevingne with a loudspeaker at the Chanel spring/summer 2015 show Photograph: Matteo Prandoni/BFAnyc.com/REX

It is probably worth remembering that one of Lagerfeld’s many quotes is: “Everything I say is a joke. I myself am a joke.”

For the Chanel catwalk show, the Grand Palais was transformed – elaborately (an adjective almost universally applicable to Lagerfeld’s actions) – into a re-creation of a Paris boulevard.

The golden-vanilla stone, the elaborate carving around the windows, the lyrical wrought iron curves of the balconies, the dormer windows in mansard roofs: all were there, in trompe l’oeil Haussmannian facades which reached to the blue sky visible through the building’s glass roof.

At ground level, the scene was set for another typical aspect of French streetlife, the manifestation. In place of Chanel’s typically lavish seating were rows of benches divided by stainless steel guard rails.

The Chanel fashion show
The Chanel fashion show Photograph: David Fisher/Rex

To a soundtrack of Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman broadcast from transistor radios on classic Chanel gold chains, which swung from the young women’s shoulders like the brand’s signature 2.55 bags, models including Gisele Bündchen and Georgia May Jagger came in two or threes, smiling and chatting. The mood this set was very different from the usual silent, single-file parade, which as a rule exudes about as much joie de vivre and personality as a queue for airport customs.

The first looks were almost psychedelic, with paint-splatter coats, rainbow tweeds and pastel tie-dye bags, worn with peacock-toned eyeshadow and flat gold shoes. The protest theme was hinted at in accessories: a crystal-studded whistle worn as a pendant, nestling among strands of pearls; a bag printed with the legend Make Fashion Not War.

There was a hefty seasoning of masculine references – pinstripe trousers cropped to this season’s on-trend “high water” hemline, just above the anklebone, and sandals which laced up like brogues – although one model carried a clutch printed with the slogan, Feministe mais feminin.

A model holds a sign reading He for She on the catwalk
A model holds a sign reading He for She on the catwalk Photograph: Christophe Karaba/EPA

Lagerfeld can hardly be accused of bandwagon-jumping in embracing politics in Paris right now: so sorry is the state of French politics that the expected return of Nicolas Sarkozy to the fray is being viewed as a much-needed injection of excitement as the build up to the presidential elections begins.

One of the placards on the catwalk, however, was painted in support of He For She, Emma Watson’s campaign for men and women to understand and support the principles of gender equality.

It would be naive to take this show too seriously. But a well-meaning joke is surely a far better thing than a nasty one.


Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chanel: co-opting feminism at Paris fashion week | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett: Karl Lagerfeld’s parade of skinny, white women did not shake my feminist foundations, but at least he is trying to communicate the issues to a different audience

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

30, Sep, 2014 @2:27 PM

Article image
Karl Lagerfeld takes Chanel on a nature trail in Paris
Designer’s chic spring collection was presented on an eco-themed runway complete with blue sky and trees in full leaf

Jess Cartner-Morley

26, Jan, 2016 @2:15 PM

Article image
The house always wins: Chanel show takes a spin at grand casino glamour
Karl Largerfeld’s Hollywoodification of fashion continues with Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart adding to the cocktail chic at Paris’s Grand Palais

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

07, Jul, 2015 @3:42 PM

Article image
Chanel at Paris fashion week: a cool collection inspired by art

Karl Lagerfeld keeps Chanel relevant by weaving the codes – tweed, chain, pearls and quilting – into a new theme, which for spring/summer 2014 is art

Lauren Cochrane

01, Oct, 2013 @1:54 PM

Article image
Karl Lagerfeld receives Paris honour at Chanel's greatest hits show
German designer awarded city’s highest award as autumn/winter haute couture collection deploys classic Chanelisms

Hannah Marriott Fashion editor

04, Jul, 2017 @3:42 PM

Article image
Viard displays quiet savoir-faire at first Chanel couture show
Designer nods to predecessors Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld at Paris fashion week

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

02, Jul, 2019 @2:42 PM

Article image
Karl Lagerfeld misses Chanel haute couture shows in Paris
Speculation grows over 85-year-old’s health after non-appearance for catwalk bow

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

22, Jan, 2019 @1:41 PM

Article image
Fashion bids farewell to Karl Lagerfeld at his final Chanel show
Grand Palais in Paris transformed into a winter wonderland for late designer’s last catwalk collection

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

05, Mar, 2019 @5:19 PM

Article image
Chanel airlines takes flight at Paris fashion week
Airport motifs came thick and fast as Karl Lagerfeld transformed Grand Palais into a chic departure lounge with a sprinkle of Chanel fairy dust

Imogen Fox in Paris

06, Oct, 2015 @1:51 PM

Article image
Paris fashion week: Chanel show is theatre, not catwalk
Karl Lagerfeld opts for monochrome and pastel in fantasy garden setting

Imogen Fox in Paris

05, Oct, 2010 @3:52 PM