Paris Fashion Week: Is Karl Lagerfeld off his trolley? Audience strips shelves after Chanel show

The designer lays his wares out and you pick and choose, like a  salad bar

Paris

Karl Lagerfeld staged his autumn/winter 2014 Chanel collection in a recreation of a supermarket. The shelves were stocked with faux Chanel-branded products - everything from “Jambon Cambon” ham, to camellia-festooned rubber gloves. Lagerfeld went for a simple, direct title: “Chanel Shopping Centre.”

That all sounds funny. And expensive. It was both. It also says a lot about the state of the fashion world today. Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel collections often feel like a supermarket sweep, a riot of tweed and chains, pearls and cashmere. Like those mega-marts that pepper industrial wasteland, it can all feel a bit overwhelming. But once you find the aisle with the stuff you like, it’s easy to make your purchase, and a swift exit. That’s Lagerfeld’s formula: he lays his wares out and you pick and choose, like a Chanel salad bar.

Equally, that supermarket can be seen as a metaphor for how designers plunder the stocks of fashion’s past with gleeful abandon, throwing everything into the trolley and seeing what they can cook up when they get home. Lagerfeld does that better than anyone. The man invented the revival of the designer brand when he first clocked into the Chanel HQ on Rue Cambon over 30 years ago. And he still cherry-picks through those references best. Today, alongside the eternal tweeds, there was a hint of the early ’90s with moth-eaten leggings and trainers, and of Lagerfeld’s back-catalogue of sarcastic Chanel-isms like a leather-intertwined chain shopping basket or 2.55 handbag wrapped in cling-film.

Finally, a supermarket sates appetites – en masse. After Lagerfeld took his bow, the entire audience surged forward to grab and bag those Chanel-ised everyday staples in a fashion free-for-all. Lagerfeld, ever-impassive behind sunglasses, coolly fielded questions while mobs stripped the shelves. Security guards confiscated the lot when guests reached the door. Everything will be going into Chanel’s boutique window schemes this autumn.

 

Chanel’s supermarché worked because it wasn’t merely a superficial staging tag-on. There’s a depth. Lagerfeld is a master at catching the mood – in this case, the commerciality and safeness that has infected many a collection. Sometimes, that shapes up into refreshing realness. Other times it means the clothes lack the frisson of forward-thinking that gives them true catwalk validity. They’re pure product, like all that Coco Panettone on Chanel’s Shopping Centre shelves.

Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen shows aren’t about reality. There’s a commercial collection in the showroom to shore up this considerable business. The catwalk is where Burton allows herself – and us – a flight of fancy.

This time, the theme was beauty and the beast, usually fused in dresses that collided lace and lambskin, tiered ruffles against tough, even visceral sproutings of fur or hard patent leather. A trio of sheath dresses disintegrated into animalistic fronds of pelt at the hem. You couldn’t help but place Burton’s tour de force (for it was) in a deeper context, like that afforded Lagerfeld. Maybe the beast is crass commerce, the beauty that form of catwalk artistry and make-believe rapidly falling out of fashion. The industry today is an unholy, uneven marriage between the two.

Not at McQueen. As a pair of gossamer gowns ethereal in their loveliness closed the show, Burton’s beauty won through. To dress? Perchance, to dream.

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