The days when haute couture was shown to fabulously wealthy clients in an intimate salon are long gone. Today Hollywood starlets and the wives of multi-millionaires will first pick out their hand-beaded and embroidered frocks from a catwalk the size of a football pitch, as at yesterday's Chanel show. Held in a purpose-built arena inside the cavernous Grand Palais next to the Seine, this was a spectacle that proved that while couture is a costly anomaly that few designers can afford, for a wealthy house such as Chanel it remains worthwhile not least as a marketing exercise.
It is an opportunity for extravagance that Chanel knows how to maximise, from every angle. In the mammoth grey logo-printed rug that was unrolled down the catwalk, there was blatant branding. In the live soundtrack provided by the American singer Cat Power there was a cool factor. Most importantly, in Karl Lagerfeld the company has a designer who can interpret the basics of couture into feats of workmanship that are lovely and faithful to the heritage that Coco Chanel bequeathed.
Mini dresses based on a man's jacket, cinched at the waist with a belt, were a sexy update on Mademoiselle Chanel's taste for wearing the Duke of Westminster's hunting clothes when they were lovers in the 1920s. Full-skirted black and silver-sequinned evening dresses, with ribbon sashes at the waist, evoked Chanel's romantic collections of the 1940s. There were also numerous examples of her greatest invention, the little black dress. Here trimmed with frothy black ostrich feathers and jet beading, the classic party dress looked anything but minimalist - which should be to the taste of front-row guests such as Victoria Beckham and the actress Kate Bosworth. In July 2002 Chanel purchased several of the most important artisanal ateliers that supply the Paris houses, including the embroidery company Lesage. There was no shortage of their feats of workmanship on show. So for the finale, a curtain was raised to reveal the "petit-mains" - the men and women who bead and embroider in such workshops - taking their bow alongside Lagerfeld.Reuse content