Lagerfeld's Chanel show captures subdued tone of Paris fashion week

Against a backdrop of swirling rumours, and the John Galliano affair, Karl Lagerfeld showed that even gloom can be chic

It fell to Karl Lagerfeld, the grand master of Paris fashion at the helm of Chanel, to encapsulate the dark mood of this Paris fashion week.

Overshadowed by the Galliano scandal, by persistent speculation over the absence of designer Christophe Decarnin from last week's Balmain show, and by whispers that the jobs of other prominent designers at some of the leading labels may be hanging by a silken thread, this has been an unusually downbeat fashion week.

Tuesday was a glorious spring morning in Paris, but the audience arriving for the Chanel catwalk show at the Grand Palais found that the sunlight streaming through the domed glass roof had been obscured by vast black screens.

The floor was strewn with chunks of black rubble, over which a low catwalk of wooden boards stretched from one end of the huge building to the other. The effect was bleak, as if a dilapidated railroad was running across wasteland. The contrast with last season's show, in which the Grand Palais became the Versailles gardens, and models pranced between fountains and flowers, could not have been starker.

But if the audience was made even more glum by the setting, it soon warmed to the message of the collection: at Chanel, even gloom can be chic. There was a faint black glitter to the lumps of faux-volcanic rock, like a metallic thread running through bouclé tweed. The clothes were – within the context of Paris fashion week, at least – supremely practical, almost anti-frivolous.

Loose trousers were rolled up at the hem, and no shoe had a heel more than two inches high. There were few bags, with the famous Chanel quilting used to make cosy-looking boilersuits instead. Long jackets were worn over scrunched, faded skinny trousers.

The self-referential, in-joke accessories – furry earmuffs with double Cs, clutch bags in the shape of pearls – have been a staple of the Chanel catwalks in recent seasons, but they were noticeably absent. Although the male model who wore a boilersuit that resembled the cult "Onesie" babygro-for-adults, accessorised for the catwalk with one of the few bags in the show, a classic chain-handled handbag, may have felt the joke was on him.

Even in workwear, Lagerfeld finds scope for flights of fancy. A model in dungaree-styled all-in-one, hems rolled above the barren catwalk, dry ice swirling like dust clouds around her ankles, looked like a character from a glossy remake of the Grapes of Wrath. Another, whose straight, woollen tunic featured one of Lagerfeld's trademark ruffled white collars beneath, marched along the long catwalk like a brave Gretel – or perhaps Hansel, androgyny being another theme of the show.

From the perspective of the woman on the street, the message was clear. After seasons of increasingly impractical heel heights, Lagerfeld has decreed flat shoes and the kitten heels the French call "petit stiletto" are set for a comeback next season.


Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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