The ever-audacious Karl Lagerfeld proved he is still nimble when it comes to putting on a fashion show. The 83-year-old had a 46-tonne Eiffel Tower recreated inside the Grand Palais for the pleasure of his Chanel couture celebrity guests.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo returned the love by presenting him with the city’s highest honour. Below are some highlights from the fall-winter 2017 shows Tuesday at Paris High Couture Week.
EIFFEL TOWER IN GRAND PALAIS HALL
“Does it go through the roof?” asked a bemused fashion insider, pointing at the ceiling of the Grand Palais exhibition hall in Paris. It was a fair question. The 38-metre replica of Paris’ most iconic monument that greeted Chanel’s couture guests seemed to extend past the famed hall’s glass roof thanks to the illusion of swirling clouds created by steam.
Back at ground level, celebrities including Julianne Moore, Katy Perry, Kristen Stewart, Pharrell Williams and Tilda Swinton were shown to metal seats in real sand and gravel.
“It’s extraordinary to come into the Grand Palais, which is awesome at the best of any time, but to stand under the tour Eiffel is extraordinary. Only Chanel,” Swinton said.
The wood-and-steel tower, which took workmen six weeks to make, was a stunning piece of craftsmanship. It copied nearly beam for beam the columns and metal twists of the edifice made by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Universal Exhibition.
The dawn of the 20th century — the period following the Eiffel Tower’s construction — was the creative touchstone for Chanel’s wintery-looking couture.
The first model strode out in sunlight filtered by wrought-iron columns to set the tone of the graphic, steel-coloured collection. She wore a wide-hipped, charcoal gray coat with exaggerated leg-of-mutton arms — styles that harkened to the Belle Epoque period.
This clever historic musing continued with flattened bowler hats and black patent lace-up ankle boots popular before the First World War. Flourishing bouquets of plumes then shot out from wrists, ankles and shoulders in evening wear.
“In this collection, there are feathers treated like fur,” Lagerfeld explained. But the designer relied on myriad references for a show whose one unifying theme might have been simply the Parisienne.
“It’s a vision of a revived Parisian woman. It is all about cut, shapes, silhouettes,” he added.
Signature tweed jackets were reimagined as long tunics, or cropped and double-breasted. Then it got arty. Mechanical Art Deco motifs gave a 1920s flair to black froufrou gowns that evoked the paintings of Robert Delaunay. Their frothy, flower embellishments at the hem gave the silhouette a vibrant dynamic. Mini-dresses in tweed, retro bateau collars and bows under the bust mixed in a dash of the 1960s. Thigh-high boots added a hint of contemporary provocation.
The German-born Lagerfeld was awarded Paris’ highest honour — the La Medaille Grand Vermeil — by Mayor Anne Hidalgo for service to the city he’s called home for seven decades.
And there was perhaps no better site for such an award than beneath a replica of the Eiffel Tower.
“Paris gives you its thanks and its love through this Grand Silver Gilt medal... which is our city’s highest award,” Hidalgo said in front of a celebrity audience, including models Claudia Schiffer and Cara Delevingne. “From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Paris loves you. You are Paris.”
Lagerfeld, a contemporary of the late fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent, has been at the forefront of Paris fashion since the 1960s, designing for Chloe before taking over Chanel in 1983.
Although he doesn’t see himself as French, the designer professed his love for the City of Light.
“I am a foreigner and I intend to stay a foreigner because foreigners see Paris and France through a different eye,” he said, accepting the award. “And when you are not French, you look without nationalism or patriotism... Long live Paris.”
ALEXIS MABILLE’S VINTAGE COUTURE
The fashion history books seemed to have been consulted on more than one occasion ahead of this season’s couture — with age-old styles wafting in the Parisian air.
French fashion designer Alexis Mabille headed for the 1860s to produce a short but beautifully executed collection of silk gowns. Old gold, shimmering white, pale blue, purple and silver brought to life the archetypically “couture” styles rendered in yards of pleated silk fabric, embroidery and thick sumptuous layering. As was the style in the mid-19th century, gowns came adorned with all the trimmings.
Ruffled sleeves met cascading layers that formed different sections in a wedding cake style. Ribbons were tied around the midriff, and tassels hung off waist-binding belts.
The sumptuous designs might have suited Scarlett O’Hara or any belle of the ball.
GIORGIO ARMANI PRIVE
Kate Winslet, Isabelle Huppert, Priyanka Chopra and Italian cinema icon Sophia Loren led the front row at Giorgio Armani Prive’s demure yet playful collection. As ever, it was classic glamour. The leitmotif of small cone hats and sensual face veils gave the silken 61-piece show a feel for the theatricality of the 1920s.
Large black neck ruffs evoked a harlequin. And a black cape with fuchsia floral embroideries was conceived by the Italian fashion legend in gargantuan proportions — visually overpowering the model’s body.
But Armani’s autumn-winter couture silhouette was all about the chest.
An open menswear tuxedo jacket with peaked shoulders exposed the flesh underneath. Elsewhere, a neckline on a pale blue top plunged daringly and was given a tasteful lift with a broach detail under the bust.
Beautiful black gowns in organza and satin — with huge full skirts — also exposed the shoulders and the chest.