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

At Paris fashion week, there was only one show in town. Karl Lagerfeld’s final collection, designed shortly before his death last month, was both Chanel catwalk show and a moment at which the fashion world said goodbye to the designer.

There was a painted backdrop of bright blue sky inside the Grand Palais, transformed for this show into Tyrolean village of 12 Alpine chalets. As always with Lagerfeld’s Chanel shows, a set had been realised with movie-location precision. Each chalet had carved shutters, lace curtains and wooden balconies. Smoke drifted from chimneys, and powdery snow banked in drifts against the long rows of wooden benches, settling on the birch and pine trees dotted between.

Models in purple waterproofs on the snow-covered catwalk.
Chalet chic: models in purple waterproofs. Photograph: Peter White/Getty Images

The picture-perfect scene set a mood that was celebratory rather than mournful. Claudia Schiffer wore a cream blouse embroidered with camellias, the house flower; Anna Wintour a pale pink bouclé suit. Lagerfeld, who never liked to admit to feeling unwell – it was one of the many things he considered common – detested funerals. “I just want to disappear like the animals in the virgin forest. It is awful to encumber people with your remains,” he told French television four years ago.

On each of the 2,658 seats for this show was a gift of Chanel No 19 fragrance, a bottle of classic Rouge Noir nail polish, and a reproduction of Lagerfeld’s sketch of himself walking with Coco Chanel, inscribed “The Beat Goes On”. The house of Chanel intends to hold a memorial event for Lagerfeld, although neither details nor date are known. Meanwhile, the message is that though he is gone, Chanel lives on.

The grand Palais was transformed into an alpine snowscape.
The Grand Palais was transformed into an alpine snowscape. Photograph: Victor Boyko/Getty Images

The show began with a minute of silence, brought to an end by a recording of Lagerfeld holding court on the art of the fashion show. The doors of Chalet Gardenia opened, and out strutted Cara Delevingne in wide windowpane-checked wool trousers with matching silk skirt and trilby, under a tweed houndstooth coat. The theme of the collection was chalet chic; the mood was the irrepressibly bumptious power-dressing that Lagerfeld perfected at Chanel in the 1980s and never strayed far from.

There were twinsets with Alpine-themed intarsia design, sheepskin moonboots, ski goggle sunglasses and sporty tweed jackets that zipped to the chin. For a finale, the actor Penélope Cruz, who has attended Chanel shows since 1999 and recently became an ambassador for the brand, wore a snowball dress with an 1980s-style puffball skirt of feather and chiffon, and carried a single white rose.

Model and actor Cara Delevingne in Chanel’s signature tweed and pearls.
Model and actor Cara Delevingne in Chanel’s signature tweed and pearls. Photograph: Pixelformula/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

Lagerfeld brought to Chanel a run of prestige almost unheard of in fashion. All eyes in the industry will now be focused on discovering whether this can be sustained without him. Virginie Viard, his righthand woman in the studio, was swiftly given responsibility for “the creative work of the collections”, but a more formal and detailed statement issued by Chanel last week named two successors. Viard becomes artistic director of fashion collections, while Eric Pfrunder, longtime director of image, is now artistic director of fashion image.

The appointments quell – for now, at least – the long-running rumours that Lagerfeld’s successor would be an internationally famous name such as Phoebe Philo or Christopher Bailey. But the division of what had been Lagerfeld’s role is significant. His success at Chanel was as much about brand image as it was about the clothes, so Pfrunder’s role is key, although Viard seems likely to take over as a front-of-house figurehead.

Naomi Campbell poses in tweed and gold
Naomi Campbell models the irrepressibly bumptious power-dressing that Lagerfeld perfected at Chanel in the 1980s. Photograph: François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Viard began her career in fashion as a costume designer before joining Chanel in 1987 as an intern. She was promoted to head of embroidery and then to director of haute couture, and began working on ready to wear in 2000. Her role alongside Lagerfeld was to develop his sketches into samples, which would then be shown to him at fittings. “I try to please him, but I like to surprise him too,” she said in 2017.

Like Lagerfeld, she is known for a strong work ethic and for being a voracious reader. In last year’s Netflix documentary about a Chanel haute couture show, Lagerfeld described Viard as “the most important person, not only for me but also for the atelier, for everything. She is my right arm and even if I don’t see her, we are on the phone all the time.”


Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

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
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
Karl Lagerfeld makes waves with catwalk beach at Chanel show
Grand Palais in Paris decked out with blue sky and sandy shore for spring-summer 2019 collection

Lauren Cochrane in Paris

02, Oct, 2018 @3:27 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
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

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

24, Jan, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
Karl Lagerfeld electrifies Chanel by embracing digital disruption
The designer’s Paris fashion week show plugged into our slightly sinister relationship with modern technology

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

04, Oct, 2016 @1:54 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

Article image
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

Jess Cartner-Morley

02, Jul, 2013 @2:52 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’s new look for Chanel: feminist protest and slogans
Jess Cartner-Morley: 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?

Jess Cartner-Morley

30, Sep, 2014 @6:14 PM