It’s not art, it’s shrewd Chanel, and it looks like a billion dollars

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The sales figures (a billion by recent estimates) have become an art form in themselves


Is fashion art? It’s a debate designers have tussled with, both for and against, for generations. The latest round of that seemingly eternal argument was sparked at the spring 2014 Chanel show on Tuesday, where Karl Lagerfeld erected a contemporary art gallery as backdrop for his latest collection.

Said gallery, in truth, was a gag, packed with art pastiching everyone from Claes Oldenberg to Cy Twombly, all heavily Chanel branded.

The art thankfully stayed on the walks rather than on the clothes, bar some paint-daub prints and a few witty painterly variations on Chanel’s accessories. The 2.55 quilted bag came in canvas with painted details, or encased in a frame like a masterpiece (commercially, it sort of is). The other key bags were quilted leather portfolios, or graffitied backpacks dangling chains.

Those resembled something toted by art students, rather than Chanel’s couture-clad customer base. However, this wasn’t Lagerfeld in challenging, nose-thumbing mode. The frayed tweed looks that opened the show had an immediate believability to them. They were the first in an array of those signature suits, each different, a twist on a theme well-worn that continues to wear well. They were a neat summary of a summery, punchy collection.

This wasn’t art, it was shrewd, clever commerce. Even the sock-shoes, wrinkled around the ankles like blue stocking intellectual attire, will find a second life in someone’s wardrobe. That’s how Lagerfeld is able to stage his spectaculars in the Grand Palais: at Chanel, the sales figures (a cool billion by the most recent estimates) have become an art form in themselves.

Art and fashion leads, inevitably, to Alexander McQueen, a label where even shoes end up as sculptural constructivist pile-ups of twisted leather and metal, never mind the fantasia going on above. There’s a reality to the spectacle, of course, but it’s generally accepted that wearability will take a back seat to the thrills.

That arty-farty reputation of McQueen feels especially relevant this season, as the label’s creative director Sarah Burton looked to early 20th century art for her inspiration. Picasso and Mondrian looked to African totems to turn the art world upside down, so perhaps that’s why there was a feel of the tribal to the clothes, the hot mixes of cobalt blue, red and white reminiscent of the Masai, models marching across a veldt of graphically blocked-out coloured sand, those towering metal heels sparking the dust.

There were a few hints of the Twenties in these McQueen clothes, the dropped waists and burnished metal cloche hats. However, as with the Cubists, Burton’s women were sliced-up, fragmented, disturbed. These clothes also felt modern, the pleat-skirted models marching out less like flappers and more like female centurions, armoured and attired to brave the modern world.

Our eyes have become attuned to the tired cliché of sport luxe abounding this season: these gladiatorial women felt like a perfectly perverse McQueen slant on that formula.

In fact, this McQueen collection chimed with many of the season’s key notes: aerated fabrics, pleats, feathers, and all that tribal stuff. But just like Picasso, this couldn’t be mistaken for the work of anyone else.

Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk