Lagerfeld comes up with a subtle new definition of beauty for Chanel

Karl Lagerfeld opened the day's proceedings in Paris yesterday with an haute couture collection for the house of Chanel that was as beautifully controlled as it is possible to imagine this most rarefied of craft forms to be.

As if to drive home the potency of the iconic Chanel jacket, a monolithic version of it, finished to look like stone, took centre stage. Models in the more familiar bouclé wool variety soon followed – this season's interpretation looked lovely in ivory and palest apricot or rose.

This was a modest collection at first glance, by couture standards at least. Understated hair and make-up and flat pumps throughout only added to a young, fresh and optimistic mood.

Moulded silver sequinned dresses, perfectly proportioned tuxedo jackets that stood away from the torso just a little and a skirt that was so tiny that a pair of jewelled cycling shorts were needed to keep modesty intact harked back to the 1960s and the Space Age fashions of Cardin, Courreges et al. This, fused with more than a nod to the 1980s – which Lagerfeld understands well – made for refreshingly metropolitan viewing.

No one would ever accuse the southern French- born designer Christian Lacroix of restraint, although he also referenced the 1980s in his offering for the spring/summer couture season – and his own work of that era in particular. Where Chanel favoured an almost entirely monochromatic colour palette, in this instance colour and embellishment were, conversely, key.

A deepest emerald chiffon gown was tied with vivid turquoise satin ribbon, an overblown fuchsia taffeta puffballl was overlaid with delicate gold lace and a huge, hand-painted silk evening coat with rainbow coloured feathered neckline even boasted its own jewelled starfish when seen from behind.

In the end, the difference between the two collections only served to emphasise the function of the twice-yearly haute couture. These are not clothes that are influenced by anything as ephemeral as passing trends. Instead, the Chanel customer is persuaded to part with tens of thousands of pounds for the understated and often slightly androgynous chic that the house's namesake first gave to women in the 1920s.

With this in mind, the fine workmanship of the couture ateliers was very much in evidence – a layered silk skirt gathered round the hips to look like a single white camellia bloom; chiffon so delicately tufted it looked like feathers – but the overall effect was relatively subtle nonetheless.

Subtlety is not a word one would readily use to describe the look of the Christian Lacroix couture devotee, however. Instead, here were dresses designed to dazzle those unafraid to wear their maximal credentials proudly on their hand-embroidered sleeves.

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