Pastoral symphony: Why style leaders can't resist a roll in the hay

This season fashion has turned to crochet knits, raffia trim, and floral prints to capture an unashamedly rustic mood. From Marie Antoinette to Karl Lagerfeld, Susannah Frankel explains why style leaders can't resist a roll in the hay

Cock-a-doodle doo! It takes quite some nerve to open a fashion show with this not entirely glamorous wake-up call – and Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld, who did just that, has it in spades.

Of course, the larger-than-life-size barn, its eaves decorated with garlands of ivy entwined with sweet meadow flowers, which took pride of place centre-stage at the Grand Palais for this label's spring/summer show in Paris last autumn, more than hinted at bucolic things to come. And so they did.

Raffia-trimmed dresses, mini-crinoline skirts, quite the finest chunky-heeled clogs, duly branded with wooden interlocking Cs, and models with tousled blonde chignons sprouting ears of wheat – yes, really – spoke of an upscale roll in the hay that might have made Marie Antoinette and her entourage frolicking in the gardens of Le Petit Trianon blush. The timing of such an extravagant gesture, meanwhile – it took place in the throes of what has since become known as the worst recession since Depression-era America – only added to its audacity. Let them eat cake indeed.

The great couturier has, in his time, been known to over-egg any grand-scale concept – his forthcoming autumn/winter collection of faux chubby furs and yetty boots with Perspex heels, shown against a backdrop of a monumental iceberg imported from Scandinavia if you please, was – only whisper it – arguably a case in point. This, though, was a rather more multi-layered and indeed compelling affair.

It's not news that much current fashion has seen designers in a frame of mind that is serious to the point of dour – a result of play-safe tactics in hard times, perhaps – but Chanel's current collection is nothing if not the antithesis of that. It is also in direct opposition to the Eighties-inspired status dressing that has held fashion in a body-conscious, power-shouldered stranglehold for too long. Whichever way one chooses to look at it, with the mighty Chanel couture heritage at his fingertips, there is surely no one better qualified than Lagerfeld to apply a light touch to the type of craft techniques that go hand-in-hand with an Elysian mood – from elaborate cane-work and basket-weave to hand-spun lace and crocheted poppy flowers.

The end result? A somewhat frayed-around-the-edges elegance which, naturally, takes all the house's signatures, from the Chanel suit to fluttering chiffon cocktail dresses, in its stride. Rustic references aplenty, meanwhile – here is every one in the book – bring to mind the best-dressed shepherdesses the world has ever seen.

Given the return of a more pragmatic mindset to the catwalk, with the emphasis firmly on a purity of design, Lagerfeld is not the only designer to find light – and lovely – relief in matters pastoral; not to mention a sense of whimsy that might not unreasonably be viewed as downright contrary. It is summer, after all. Any refuseniks presumably went against the grain safe in the knowledge that not every woman wants to dress in a pale and interesting jacket each and every day of her life, no matter how perfectly executed it may be.

And so, London wunderkind Christopher Kane offers fondant-coloured gingham dresses, finished with crystal, that speak of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. Peter Jensen – more gingham here – has come up with the type of witty, pretty designs that more than hint at country life in the very marginally twisted manner that this designer knows only too well. Vivienne Westwood too has long been in love with the type of corseted, cotton sweet-nothing that is the preserve of the modern-day milkmaid – if there can be such a thing. The Harper's Bazaar stylist-turned-designer Melanie Ward's first collection features raffia bustiers and pyjama-striped trousers and skirts, meanwhile, and even Bottega Veneta – home to supremely understated metropolitan clothing – has come up with crisp white pinafore dresses with oversized pockets where otherwise panniers might be. Finally, printed strawberries, scattered across cool, white cotton dresses, puffed up like clouds, are equally unexpected at Yves Saint Laurent. We could all be for- given for wanting to skip across a cornfield in designs such as these. To surmise, then, it's safe to say that dressing for a picnic – designer style – has rarely seemed so appealing.

Not everything in this best of all possible worlds is as it seems, however.

There may be a heartfelt innocence (in the face of hard-earned experience?) to all of the above, but at least some designers have looked to nature in a less literal manner. Take Prada's virtual paradise of manipulated photographic prints of palm trees, parasols and lounging holidaymakers, drawn from images of a man-made resort in Japan, as just one example. Alexander McQueen's collection – which took as its starting point man's return to the seas with the help of highly sophisticated technological advancement – ultimately appears more other-worldly still. This was Darwin's theory of evolution reversed, giving rise to a strangely beautiful underwater alien dressed in pixilated floral and marine prints that are as brilliantly engineered as they are difficult to identity. At Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière' s shots of lemon and lime in an otherwise dark and distressed colour palette, similarly, appear somewhat more vivid than Mother Nature ever intended. Natural fibres are here variously waxed, laminated, dyed and over-dyed to the point where they are barely recognisable.

Back at Chanel, though, and there was little quite so knowing to be seen. Instead, a wantonly excessive – and eye-wateringly expensive – joie de vivre was the story here. If the installation of the aforementioned barnyard into one of the French fashion capital's most feted landmarks weren't enough to be going along with, Lily Allen, in spangly Chanel, rose out of the floorboards 15 minutes in and sang live – think her own Cockney-fied take on country and western style with Chanel-clad model dancers alongside – and, as if that weren't enough, the proceedings finished with model bride Freja Beha Erichsen, groom Baptiste Giabiconi and Lara Stone romping in a haystack in suitably frisky a manner. Such a fashionable ménage à trois is unprecedented, in full public view at least.

"And yet, remarkably, the clothes never became a sideshow," said the American Vogue website,, in its review the morning after. "In a season where celebrities, concepts and a lot of forgettable mediocrity have got in the way of seeing why luxury fashion should merit the price, this was a Chanel triumph."

Praise indeed.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Sir David Attenborough
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Interface Developer - HTML, CSS, JS

    £17000 - £23750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Liverpool based international...

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

    £120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness