Fashion: Forties look is thin on Coco

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The Independent Online
TAKE one picture of Coco Chanel on the eve of the Second World War, on the shoulders of her friend Serge Lifar, a dancer with the Diaghilev Ballet, and use it as the starting point of the Chanel spring/summer 1995 collection.

Also use it as a finale and send a team of muscle-boys down the catwalk with Claudia, Linda, Carla, Helena et al on their shoulders. It worked well as an idea and a finale. But the bit in between had little to do with the 1940s Chanel Lagerfeld was trying to create. Coco Chanel closed her atelier between 1939 and 1954, so, for once, Karl did not have any reference for the period other than one picture.

So he split thigh-high skirts up to the waist to reveal glittery, spangled knickers and G-strings. He slung gold chains around the hips of coral-coloured tweed suits and mixed in a measure of Versace glitz for good luck.

Jackets were cropped with just enough space for bulky pockets, one on each breast. There were the usual tweedy suits in pastel colours - and a new print for summer . . . Miss Selfridge kiss-me lips. The only way to differentiate it from the high-street version were the cross-Cs that appeared just about 20 times too often. There was the same lack of subtlety (Karl would call it wit) as shown by the rip-off merchants who sell Chanel copies by the truckload.

But, as always these days with Chanel, the accessories take precedence over the clothes.

A Chanel bag will sell to people who cannot quite afford a suit or a lace-knit dress, and the bags are no longer classics to be kept season to season. The modern face of Chanel demands a change of bag at least every six months; there were small square vanity boxes in the sweet pastel colours of 1950s Chevrolets, and there were huge see-through shoppers to allow enough room for the logos of the perfume, the lipstick and the powder-compact to shine through.

(Photographs omitted)