karl lagerfeld connects the world at chanel
For his spring/summer 17 Chanel show, Karl Lagerfeld built a giant server inside the Grand Palais, reflecting a season of debate between the corners of fashion.
Unless his phone book really does extend to the powers-that-be, Karl Lagerfeld couldn't have predicted the low tech vs. high tech debate that would become this season's hot topic. And yet there we were at Chanel, sitting inside a massive server at the Grand Palais, wires and chips lining the walls. After the shows in Milan, editors from American Vogue wrote a roundup of the week touching on the explosive subject of influencers and their effect on the industry. "Note to bloggers who change head-to-toe, paid-to-wear outfits every hour: Please stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style," Sally Singer, Creative Digital Director, wrote. "The professional blogger bit, with the added aggression of the street photographer swarm who attend them, is horrible, but most of all, pathetic for these girls, when you watch how many times the desperate troll up and down outside shows, in traffic, risking accidents even, in hopes of being snapped," Sarah Mower, Chief Critic, countered. In a series of tweets, Facebook updates and Instagram captions, the influencers made several retorts at the Vogue editors, defending their position and relevance in the industry. The mainstream media quickly caught wind of the so-called feud, blowing up the story into new proportions, with news outlets such as the Daily Mail and the Guardian chiming in. Ceasefire eventually ensued but the debate remains: how can the institutional values of print media and their digital platforms co-exist with this new world of players, who abide by their own rules and all want a piece of the fashion industry pie?
It was interesting that Chanel should be the house to make a digital reference this season—Karl Lagerfeld recently turned 83, but he's the most observant designer in fashion, forever commenting on the status quo of the industry through his elaborate show productions and collections. This time he interpreted the graphic mechanics of a server in the construction of his Chanel garments, weaving cloths to look like chips and cables and contrasting said hi-tech fabrications with elements from the lingerie wardrobe—the most analogue of them all. The collection was produced way before American Vogue ignited the blogger debate last week, but in its uniting poles it was the perfect illustration of the tension between these two worlds within the fashion industry. Maybe Lagerfeld had been watching Absolutely Fashion, the documentary about life inside British Vogue, which has been this season's other hot topic—pretty much for the same reasons as the debate between editors and influencers. It's the particular scene in which the editorial team are voting on which Kate Moss cover to run that had the industry talking. Alexandra Shulman's team all prefer a more daring cover to the Editor-in-Chief's favourite, but they are eventually shot down by their boss, whose inkling proves right—the suits at Condé Nast agree with her choice of a much safer cover. The scene goes to illustrate similar tensions between the new and old worlds of fashion, if you will: an industry faced with retaining a certain integrity, both commercially and editorially, while also having to move things along.
Lagerfeld has always been a staunch believer in the future - the backbone of fashion - but in all his worldly wisdom he's not a blind follower of the new. Etiquette, he once said, makes society an easier place to live in, and perhaps that's how we connect the new and old worlds in this giant server of fashion. We all want there to be room for everyone in this industry. It's how new ideas are created and how fashion survives, but there's still a lot to be said for respecting the old values that created the industry in the first place, and gave influencers a platform on which to promote themselves and young editors a conference room in which to evolve the covers and content of institutional magazines, even if they don't always get their way. The American Vogue editors, who wrote that Milan roundup, by the way - Mower and Singer included - are also staunch believers in the future. They help and promote young talent and have spent their careers nurturing the new, so it's not as if they're guarding the gates to their industry. Rather, like Lagerfeld, they understand that even inside the great server of fashion, wires and chips need to be linked with care if we are to connect the new and old worlds of fashion. If you load too many things at the same time, the system will break down.
Text Anders Christian Madsen