Suzy Menkes at Couture: Day Three
Chanel: Karl’s Haute Tech is in Full Bloom
A conservatory filled with spiky winter plants stretched upwards to the glass roof of the Grand Palais. Then, slowly, flower by digital flower, the paper petals opened into a hothouse of pinks, apricot, yellow – the same colours that flooded the opening outfits in the Chanel show.
Let’s call it haute tech – for has digital awareness and high fashion ever come together so spectacularly as in Karl Lagerfeld’s brainstorm for the summer Chanel couture collection?
Only after the last model, in a scarecrow-chic straw hat, an intensely decorated cropped top and airy skirt had walked the runway, followed by a bride with four gardeners clutching more of the spiky flowers, was Karl able to explain this computerised springtime miracle.
“You know, there are 300 engines under here,” he said, stamping his shoes on the icy-white sand. “And it took nearly a year to put it together after it came to me, pouf! In a flash.”
Any designer who can make flowers wing open their petals, and design a gardener’s watering can decorated with the Chanel double Cs, is a fashion wunderkind. And in this collection, both Lagerfeld himself and the Chanel studio reached a level of perfection which will hang like an exquisite perfume over their 32-year collaboration.
For these were real clothes à la Chanel, the famous tweeds recreated with embroidered hand stitching, and the familiar suits rejuvenated by slicing the jackets and the skirt tops to leave a patch of bare skin.
Seen that crop-top, belly button look before? Ah! But never like this, so delicate and light in floral or sorbet colours.
Anyway, as Karl said: “I don’t care if the clients order skirts up to the waist. This is couture, they choose what they like.”
But how to choose from this orgy of gorgeousness? Three Russian clients, each in a different silver-fox coat, were already feverishly discussing their choices. Even if I were just picking a hat, I would find it hard to decide between a little mohair-and-tulle beanie, perked up with pink, silver-grey and white flowers, or one of what Karl called the “cloud” hats: wide saucers of mesh, with, I swear, sticks of straw nestled inside.
The fact that the elaborations in the clothes, like an embroidery-weave suit with a fringe of loose threads from thigh to knee, were partnered with flat black booties as the only footwear, kept the show grounded.
As ever with Chanel, the clothes are wearable, fashionable and fit for purpose – meaning that it is simple for clients to find day and evening outfits to be the wardrobe focus in their privileged world.
I picked up on the lightness in construction of the faux-tweed suits, either with wafting, wide skirts or a longer, skinnier version. The embellishment was so dense – like a multi-coloured feathery cape worn over the head and shoulders – and yet another tribute to Chanel’s petites mains, or, hand workers.
But the real credit has to go to Karl Lagerfeld himself. He works as seamlessly as those seamstresses, stitching together old and new, and using Chanel’s long and noble tradition to make it relevant to our techno savvy, computerised, digitally enhanced world.
Elie Top: Hidden Treasures are Pure Luxury
The smooth sphere shines like a round bauble – until this jewel swivels to reveal its textured, jewelled interior. It is easy to imagine the hands at work on these Elie Top pieces, which look like celestial gatherings. But the designer, showing the jewellery close up – before it goes on display at Colette in Paris this week – told the twenty-first-century story behind this ancient study of the stars.
“It is all done in 3D on computers,” he said of the appropriately named “Mécaniques Célestes” collection.
Moving around like stars in the sky, a round ring rolls over its smooth, metallic side to show diamonds sparkling inside. You could take the idea of a ring with concealed stones as a streetwise way of hiding jewels from attention. But instead, Elie Top has caught in his jewellery the mood of the moment: nothing is more appealing than hidden luxury.
Armani: Grace and Strength in Bamboo
Giorgio Armani had just the words for the bamboo that was the leitmotif of his collection and his runway.
“Bamboo is strong but it can bend,” said the designer, referencing the pliable foliage that swayed through the Armani Privé collection, as though a gentle breeze were blowing through some Asiatic paradise.
Armani has always had a penchant for the East. But despite an Oriental twang to the soundtrack, these were not clothes that shrieked of an Asian origin. Not that this quiet and gentle collection shouted in any way to the designer’s many front row clients.
And though coming from disparate backgrounds – Kristin Scott Thomas, Robin Wright and actresses Sonam Kapoor from India and Paz Vega from Spain – all pushed backstage while looking enthusiastic about the show.
“Those loose trousers,” said Scott Thomas, referring to the flowy and languorous pants that swayed like a forest of tender stems under short or long fitted jackets.
We have seen this look before from the designer, but he has refreshed it with delicate attention to detail.
Armani will celebrate 40 years in fashion in March, and, although Armani Privé has had a shorter life, this show seemed to sum up what the maestro stands for: something akin to bamboo in his quiet strength.
So these were clothes to wear with a casual elegance: each outfit beautifully accessorised with translucent earrings of Asiatic decoration, and bags that were often glassy and transparent.
There might be feathery effects to frame the torso, but little obvious decoration, and often the sense of a shower of water falling over the body. The colours, including shades of green, blue and aquamarine put the collection in an elegant seascape.
Inevitably, there was a pause – although it was not necessary – between day, holiday and evening wear. Yet even with more decoration for the Academy Award pieces, really any of these outfits could have graced the red carpet. And ‘grace’ is the word that sums up Armani’s collection.
Roger Vivier: Sparkling in Clubland
In a dark den, with music pounding, the shoes stood out: crystal baubles at the end of high heels. There were more sparkles on ankle boots that were curved open at the side to reveal flesh.
This was the vision of the “Butterflies of the Night” collection at Roger Vivier (pictured), where designer Bruno Frisoni looked back to the Eighties, but brought that disco world into the twenty-first century.
Some shoes even went back to the style of Marlene Dietrich, who was another inspiration. But mostly, the designer focused on sensual and sexy high-heeled shoes – adding a practical side in tiny, evening draw-up bags, for those who want to take their belongings onto the dancefloor.