blast from the past: karl brings ancient greece to paris for chanel cruise 18
Karl Lagerfeld imported Ancient Greece into Paris for his Chanel cruise show on Wednesday, as he reminded fashion and its surrounding world to “go back to go forward”.
You could say it was a call for civilisation: days before an election that could radically change the face of France, Karl Lagerfeld invited guests not to Athens for Chanel's Ancient Greece show for Cruise 18, but to Paris—the capital of another European economy, which currently needs all the boosts it can get. He decked out a corner room of the Grand Palais like the ruins of the Parthenon, bringing to life the wonderment he experienced as a child reading Homer and losing himself in the myths of Minoan civilisation. And Lagerfeld took his theme and ran with it, all around the Ancient Agora, turning his Coco Chanel classics positively classical, with all the Grecian trimmings of an Old Hollywood epic—leggy sandals and floaty Athena dresses in tow. Chanel herself made costumes for Jean Cocteau's staging of Antigone - the drama of Oedipus - in 1922 and cherished few things more than the marble Venus, which sat in her rue Cambon apartment. Those references easily justified Lagerfeld's import of Ancient Greece into Paris for the day, but for fashion's answer to Plato - Lagerfeld, our wise philosopher - there was doubtlessly more punch to his parade.
He chose to comment through show notes, which were more direct than your usual Lagerfeld runway scribbles. "I'm suggesting going back to go forward," he explained. "To create the future, you have to pay attention to the past." Sitting there in the temple ruins and decapitated caryatids - a set created by Etienne Russo - there was a whiff of destruction to it all: a melancholic sense of decadence in memoriam to "an ideal Greece," as the show notes stated, long gone. Lagerfeld romanticised the idea of that civilisation as a breathing space enabled by freedom of movement, a sentiment he communicated through the garments themselves but obviously also on a subliminal level. "I see Greece as the origin of beauty and culture, where there was a wonderful freedom of movement that has since vanished," he noted. Ancient Greece, with Alexander's aspirations to conquer and unite the worlds, couldn't be in greater contrast to the insulate ideals of far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, who could win the French election this weekend and trigger a Frexit to match England's vote to leave the EU last year.
Having witnessed through the eyes of fashion the liberal evolution of a now-globalised world for more than half a decade, Lagerfeld knows what he's talking about when he says to learn from the past. At this point, the reactionary social climate sweeping through Europe and the world must seem totally baffling to a designer, who - despite his 83 years - is the most intrinsically forward-thinking and post-modern player in the business. For his Chanel ready-to-wear collection in March, Lagerfeld launched a rocket into outer space, upping and leaving it all for a new beginning. For his cruise collection on Wednesday, his mood was less devil-may-care and rather more solemn. There was a beautiful simplicity to the collection he proposed: those soft Grecian lines, tribal patterns and gilded embellishments had a familiarity about them, which was ultimately comforting—reassuring. It was the uniform of the first civilisation, and the look that give birth to all common sense in its wake. A down-to-earth grandeur.
When Lagerfeld emerged through the Greek columns to take his bow after the finale, he did it holding hands with his 8-year-old godson Hudson Kroenig—his prize student, the Aristotle to his Plato. It was Lagerfeld's nod to the next generation, the elder passing his wisdom on to the younger, and a shimmer of hope for restoration in amongst all the ruins.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Images courtesy Chanel