Lagerfeld flags return to the real world

AH, THE turns of fashion's fickle wheel] A mere two months ago, at the Paris haute collections, Karl Lagerfeld, the kaiser at Chanel, came up with the ugliest collection of his career; a display of misogyny, ugly proportion and awful hats. I called it a crime, described the models as resembling faceless blown-up sex dolls and caused quite a little storm at the Chanel HQ in Rue Cambon.

This week in Paris - where we are watching the ready-to-wear collection for next winter - my ticket arrived as usual. So did some fragrant white tulips to brighten my hotel room. And the show? Last time it made me angry, and this time it made me smile.

The man who in January covered models' faces - he told me later he thought we would have fun guessing who was who as they teetered like blind mice down the catwalk - yesterday did a complete volte-face. Out came Naomi swathed in a Union Jack flag, Linda in the red-and-white maple leaf of Canada, Christy in a Salvadorean flag, etc. 'Look at this bevy of international beauties,' Karl seemed to be saying. 'Aren't they great, aren't they gorgeous?' He certainly wasn't saying 'look at the clothes' - at this point you could hardly see them.

Occasionally, when the eyes were not diverted by wellington boots, outsize fluffy muffs, huge furry cats and the new Chanel bag, which is chalky bright and comes with a tiny baby bag clipped on to it, one did get the chance to get a look at the clothing.

'I don't want to look like a gonk,' was one Chanel customer's reaction to the snow-bunny fluffy suits - Karl's new bulky version of Coco's traditional tailleur in candy pink and canary yellow fake fur. But perhaps she would like to look like a kitten, in a bubblegum-pink boucle jacket, thankfully stripped of those gobstopper gilt buttons which now look so tired and tied down the front with ribbons instead. This was cute and pretty, while much of the rest of the tailoring, when you could concentrate on it, was reserved and elegant. Not new, but Coco would have liked it.

The knock-off merchants in the Far East, who will have seen a contraband video of the show by the time you read this, will probably be tooling up their machines to imitate the knitwear. The shapes were traditional Chanel, but the colour combinations: tangerine trimmed with pistachio, emerald with sky blue, sunny yellow with apple, should prove commercial to the Jolie Madame market.

Lagerfeld's Chanel used to be fashion forward. It no longer is. We fashion hacks used to be sketching so fast we didn't have time to tap our feet to the disco beat. This time we did. Yesterday's was a hip and happy show, but new directions were few.

(Photograph omitted)