behind every great man: chanel at paris couture

On Tuesday in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld put on an emotional Chanel show and reminded an haute couture week in evolution just who are really the stars of the show.

by Anders Christian Madsen
06 July 2016, 1:52pm

Between ready-to-wear intruders and odd gimmicks, it's been a peculiar haute couture week so far. But on Tuesday morning, Karl Lagerfeld put a stop to the madness by redirecting the haute spotlight to the people without whom there wouldn't be a couture week in the first place: the craftsmen — or women, rather — of the Chanel ateliers. They lined the walls of a circular venue erected inside the Grand Palais, working away on their mannequins and cutting tables as models made their way around the ring. The collection was decidedly 80s, with all the ruched boots and big shoulders it could take, eventually interrupted by flouncy French maiden's dresses and power woman tailoring Alexis Colby would have killed for. The normally so future-forward Lagerfeld has been in an analogue mood lately. We saw it in his Chanel ready-to-wear show in March for which he transformed the entire Grand Palais into an old-school salon show, "front row only," brilliantly giving it up for the Instagram age where everyone's got front row access to everything through their mobiles, while reminding us that there's still a lot to learn from the good old days too, before hype and hysteria kicked in.

His Chanel haute couture show picked up that storyline, drawing a big fat line under the meaning of haute couture: high dressmaking. In a fashion landscape where every other ready-to-wear collection qualifies as demi-couture, the definition and purpose of haute couture today may be a hard nut to crack. But what Lagerfeld seemed to be saying with his affectionate display of respect for the people, who run those ateliers, was that their craft and toil shouldn't be disrespected by anyone coming in from the sideline abusing the label of 'haute couture'. Vetements, who opened the shows this Sunday, were clear from the beginning that what it was doing wasn't haute couture and that its desire to show on this schedule instead of the ready-to-wear one had more to do with restructuring the fashion cycle and shaking things up. At Brioni, Justin O'Shea showed a mixture of bespoke pieces and ready-to-wear, but didn't call it haute couture either. Lagerfeld wasn't out to get the irreverent newcomers on the schedule, but simply to remind the industry that whatever happens to our fashion weeks and schedules, nothing could ever change the special meaning of this high craft.

He took his bow with the four women who head up his ateliers — women he's worked with for decades and with whom he's really shared all his bows through the years. Bringing them out with him was a moving gesture from fashion's oldest working designer, who — despite his super fame and rock star personality — recognizes that fashion is a team sport. Lately rumors have circulated that his friend Hedi Slimane could be up for the Chanel job if Lagerfeld decides to retire. His contract is for life, but it's not impossible that he'd choose a successor and put him or her through a handover process. This, of course, is all speculation but this Chanel haute couture finale was emotional in a way previous ones haven't been — and it couldn't help but make you wonder. It was personal for Lagerfeld, for his premieres, and for his guests, who don't know a Chanel — or a fashion industry — without him. Lagerfeld stands for everything fashion should be: fantasy and reality, the past and the present, and very much the future, too. All hail the Kaiser!


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Images courtesy of Chanel

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