Chanel pulled the curtain back on its Paris haute couture show Tuesday to reveal the secret life of its studios, where a small army of tailors, embroiderers and plumers turn out some of the world’s most expensive clothes.
Veteran designer Karl Lagerfeld transported 80 of his so-called “petites mains” (little hands), who can spend hundreds of hours on a single dress, onto the set of his catwalk show.
With American actors Jessica Chastain, Will Smith and his daughter Willow looking on, seamstresses laboured over impossibly detailed creations while models walked between tailors’ dummies and bolts of silk and taffeta.
The message of this minutious recreation of Chanel’s famous rue Cambon ateliers was clear — haute couture was timeless.
After the knowing rebels at hip brand Vetements had attempted to steal the traditional houses’ thunder with their cheekily commercial show Sunday in which they recut existing designer and streetwear clothes, the “Kaiser” was reasserting that real couture was painstakingly handmade.
Like Dior and Schiaparelli, who also grandstanded the “inimitable savoir faire” of their historic studios the day before, Lagerfeld insisted that couture was unique, mounting a spirited defence of its values.
“If there wasn’t these women,” he said pointing to his staff bent over their Singer sewing machines, “haute couture would not exist,” he added.
Brides wear the trousers
“It’s all about know-how, without that it’s a bit risky. Why is it (haute couture) so expensive? You have to really see how it is done. It is truly artisanal, nothing is mass produced. I have nothing against fast fashion, but this is sometimes else entirely.
“We are dealing with great luxury, and this is how it is done, just as it was 100 years ago,” he added.
There was more than a whiff of Victoriana too about the plumed peacock dresses Lagerfeld sent down the runway, many in black and white, another echo of the Dior show.
There was also lots of the riffs on the classic Chanel box jacket and bolero — often in the palest of pearl pinks — before the showstopping finale of English model Edie Campbell as a bride who can both wear the trousers and have a frou-frou train of pink plumes.
“Next time I will have a bride who is over 40, and I will be put her in navy,” said the designer, who even at 82 shows no signs of hanging up his starched collar.
The black and white theme continued in French designer Stephane Rolland’s spectacular supervamp lily-like gowns.
But the most soulful collection of the day came from the young creator Yacine Aouadi, who drew on the famous mosque-cathedral in the Spanish city of Cordoba for quietly beautiful dresses that “mixed cultures and religions”.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Italian house Brioni, famous for its fine men’s tailoring, showed off its new flashy gangster look of silk shirts, chinchilla coats and metal-edged briefcases masterminded by creative director Justin O’Shea.
The Australian, who changed the Brioni logo to a gothic font and hired the death metal band Metallica for his first ad campaign, told reporters his clothes “should be pimp. It should be awesome.”