Age of austerity? Last of the great couturiers goes for broke

Lagerfeld recreates a mock-Versailles for Chanel

Ninety-two models, a live orchestra and a vast 18th-century parterre-style garden transformed the interior of the Grand Palais in central Paris yesterday, where Karl Lagerfeld showed his collection for Chanel. This is perhaps the most famous of all the grand French status labels and Lagerfeld, of course, is the last of the great couturiers still working his magic. His shows are never presented on anything less than the grandest scale but, even so, such an ostentatious display of wealth and power was breathtaking.

If the mise-en-scène, in which neatly trimmed hedges rendered in monochrome swirled around three giant fountains under vast glazed domes, tested the taste levels of at least some in attendance – let's face it, fashion is not a world famed for its modesty – the clothing itself for the most part revealed a more delicate touch.

The faux-fur trim that dominates Chanel's current autumn/winter collection will be replaced by trembling feathers for spring/summer. They were everywhere: at the hems of 1920s-line cocktail dresses, at the shoulders of neatly tailored jackets, and even covering one particular gown entirely.

Equally fine, and echoing the period detail of the set, were rococo swirls and curlicues embroidered on to fine silk chiffon which was as light, frivolous and quintessentially Gallic as any jolie madame worth her credentials might wish for.

If the heart of this label lies in the proudly bourgeois haute couture tradition, Lagerfeld's hand is also more than prone to an irreverent – and even iconoclastic – flourish. It came this time in the form of the traditional bouclé wool cardigan jacket paired with the briefest hot-pants or biker boots crafted in that same fabric. Then came distressed denim worn by the world's most beautiful women, men and even a small child, holding hands with his identically clad adult counterpart and clearly dazzled by the opulence of it all.

Given the longevity of the Chanel heritage, it's perhaps not surprising that this huge collection didn't stop there. Silk dresses were printed with the label's signature camelia – Gabrielle Chanel's favourite flower. The quilted Chanel 2.55 bag was all present and correct too: it looked good as an oversized, black lambskin clutch.

Add to the mix gold earrings, chain belts and armfuls of bangles, gloves and a parasol shaped like an oversized sun hat... The list goes on and was proof, if ever any were needed, that this is a luxury-goods empire that has something for everyone – from the most privileged customer looking for something special to wear, to her daughter and granddaughter in search of a Chanel-stamped trinket.

At the end of the show, Lagerfeld stepped out to take his bows accompanied by his old friend and former Chanel model, Inès de la Fressange. She looked as beautiful as ever in a signature, black floor-length gown.

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