Tag Archives: Haute Couture

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A Milestone

If each post written were to represent each year lived, this would be my centenary.

100.

Whilst I await a congratulatory telegram from the Queen, we should perhaps get on with the show and make it suitably marvellous.

And what, perchance, could be better than Chanel Haute Couture?

Beneath the ornate cupola of the Grand Palais and the gaze of a behemothic lion statue – a towering homage to the house’s late founder, Coco Chanel, a Leo – models emerged onto the runway from an oversized ‘pearl’ globe. Another Chanel signature, it augured a collection of equally grandiose theatricality.

Transporting and folkloric, the clothes summoned all the opulence and romantic nostalgia of Romanov Russia. An Old Order charm, if you will. 

Cropped tweed jackets wearing bracelets of nutria fur and artisanal bronze buttons, velvet and wool tailoring, overdone rounded shoulders, and a saturated colour card of autumnal navy, wine red, toffee, and brown – without so much a whisper of traditional Chanel black – have me think of literary characters such as Anna Karenina and long sweeping journeys on the Trans-Siberian railway. 

Where dark colour and heavy fabric conspired to make the clothes seem matronly and oppressively aristocratic, youthful modernity was imparted with brambled hair and skin bare but for the kiss of slut-red raspberry lips.

Neither my taste nor Lagerfeld at his best – the less said about the wrinkled ‘Nora Batty’ stocking boots, the better – it is perhaps telling that I have only chosen to picture accents of handwork and ornamentation rather than full ensembles. 

A cream dress gave the illusion of being constructed entirely from pearl beadwork. Cuffs were gilded with a cacophony of chains and precious stones. More befitting a Fabergé egg, baroque tapestries came embellished with delicate vines of imperial gold embroidery. It was this craftmanship – this extraordinary regalia of human art and endeavour –  that salvaged the collection.

With each passing season, it has increasingly seemed that the spirit and aesthetic of ‘Coco’ Chanel wanes.

In 1926, her friend and contemporary, Jean Cocteau, produced a cartoon to exemplify contemporary fashion. Focus went to a sylphlike and insouciant garconne – attired in a plain jersey dress, a scribble of ink jewellery her only adornment – whilst, in the background, an elderly matron retreated from the page in a burdensome fur coat. The drawing was accompanied by one laconic annotation, ‘Poiret s’eloigne – Chanel arrive’: Poiret – the most celebrated designer of the Twenties – departs as Chanel arrives.

Were Cocteau to draw today, it would be Chanel departing with her neat, iconic tweed suit and coterie of little black dresses.*

I question whether this change of design ‘sea air’ results simply from Lagerfeld asserting his own artistic legacy more aggressively or from the need, in an uncertain economic world, to be expedient and make decisions that pander to prevalent commercial markets.

Whatever the cause, with this particular haute couture collection, Chanel was not so much the house that roared as the one that quietly purred.

A milestone, indeed.

* Is it not ironic, then, that the lion and pearl – both powerful symbols of Coco – stole the show?

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