Chanel haute couture show proposes a new catwalk silhouette

Karl Lagerfeld finds beauty beyond the thin with iconoclastic collection that features ovoid-shaped skirts and padded-out hips

Hemlines go up and down, colours come and go, supermodels rise and fall, but in one crucial respect catwalk fashion looks the same from season to season – the silhouette is always tall, and always thin.

So Karl Lagerfeld’s latest haute couture collection, shown in the Grand Palais in Paris on Tuesday, was as iconoclastic as fashion gets. By sculpting skirts into ovoid shapes and padding out slender hips, Lagerfeld proposed a new catwalk silhouette. The designer who once criticised the singer Adele for being “a little too fat” seemed finally ready to see beauty beyond a reed-thin outline.

A model presents a creation the Chanel collection.
A model presents a creation from the Chanel collection. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

The inspiration for the silhouette was not Kim Kardashian, but Alberto Giacometti’s 1920s sculpture Spoon Woman. The colour scheme of the collection and setting paid homage to a British interior designer of the same era, Syrie Maugham. The white catwalk and seating alluded to the all-white interiors Maugham popularised. The centrepiece of mirrored screens was another Maugham-inspired touch.

The pencil skirt of a tweed suit was blown out into an airy curve to give the illusion of a bigger bottom. A shift dress was fluted in an A-line from below an empire-line belt, as if gliding over a comfortably full tummy. There was nothing cartoonish or comic here. The effect was subtle, but unmistakably a departure from the conventional silhouette of a haute couture model, who in profile typically resembles Flat Stanley, the children’s book character.

Chanel’s setting for the show was inspired by the British interior designer Syrie Maugham.
Chanel’s setting for the show was inspired by the British interior designer Syrie Maugham. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

The airy shape seemed to breathe new life into the familiar tweed suiting and made for a strong collection with a distinctly modern point of view. There were narrow silhouettes dotted between the curves, which added to the sense of a refreshingly non-uniform catwalk. A Jackie Kennedy mood was conjured by the simple one-colour outfits with matching hats, by the cropped bracelet-length sleeves, and by clean-lined bateau necklines. High silver court shoes, and a single pearl anklet, were worn by each model.

As the collection segued into eveningwear the swell of the hips became less noticeable. Bella Hadid wore a halterneck black chiffon coat dress that flared gently from a raised waist, falling into three tiers to the floor. Kendall Jenner’s silver column gown was slender aside from a wide band of white feathers at knee height. Lily-Rose Depp closed the show, arm in arm with Lagerfeld, in a swan-like confection of ballet-slipper pink organza froth.

Lily-Rose Depp with designer Karl Lagerfeld at the show’s finale.
Lily-Rose Depp with designer Karl Lagerfeld at the show’s finale. Photograph: Dominique Charriau/WireImage

The appeal of Paris fashion week as a destination for the super-rich has been hit by security concerns, and this has affected the haute couture schedule. Versace declined to stage a show, but instead displayed a 20-piece collection in its private showroom. That collection will now embark on an international tour to meet clients closer to home.

Only Chanel seems impervious to the downturn, with Bruno Pavlovsky, the company’s president of fashion, telling Women’s Wear Daily that its “order books are full”, and quoting a double-digit rise in couture orders. Chanel, whose style status is inextricably linked to that of Paris as the international capital of chic, is working hard to keep the French capital in the spotlight. Bucking the trend for globetrotting, which in May will see Louis Vuitton show in Japan and Christian Dior in California, Chanel staged a blockbuster show in the newly reopened Ritz Paris in December, and will show its cruise collection in the city on 3 May.


Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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