Last October at a breakfast hosted by Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, for visiting editors to discuss how to support a city facing declining tourism numbers, it was suggested that it didn’t make much sense for Paris’s most famous fashion houses—the icons of Parisian allure—to hold these shows anywhere but here. Today Chanel duly delivered, just at a moment when the city seems slumped in a strange pre-election purgatory of niggling unease that a frighteningly extreme candidate might just come to power.
There was also, naturally, a proper thematic Chanel-specific reason to be exactly here, in the Galerie Courbe of the Grand Palais, among a set inspired by those two famous Greek sites. The clue to it was that half-packed statue, a copy of Coco Chanel’s own 1st-century headless Venus that remains in her apartment on Rue Cambon. Chanel’s press notes also flagged Mademoiselle’s contribution as costume designer to Jean Cocteau’s 1922 reimagining of the ancient Greek tragedy Antigone (soon after recast as an anti-Fascist existentialist parable by Jean Anouilh). She was a confirmed wrestler with Greco-Roman culture—but how would the culture that produced Leonidas and Lysistrata permeate Lagerfeld?
The answer was in a densely attractive Greek salad composed of Hellenic silhouettes and tropes—strappy (column heeled) sandals, jeweled golden armbands, ancient coins as buttons or heaped in necklaces, pottery relief knits, faux-rustic chitons, and metal laurel leaf paillettes clustered in neckpieces or painted on sweatshirts and a sweat-tee. There were toga-touched soft jersey goddess dresses, pants and shorts suits in sunset pastels and fit-for-the-Forum white. Arizona Muse’s second look (an himation-line golden top above a skirt studded with metal pins and drops of garnet) came accessorized with a chain-handle round bag from which a cast-metal wide-eyed owl—or Athene noctua, symbol of Athena—stared forth alongside those iconic double Cs.
Lagerfeld’s was an imagined Ancient Greece set in the present with no pretensions to the literal. As he said in the notes (because no interviews today): “The criteria of beauty in Ancient then Classical Greece still holds true. There have never been more beautiful representations of women. Or more beautiful columns. The entire Renaissance, in fact, was based on antiquity.” As Coco Chanel herself, and the architects of the columned and porticoed Grand Palais, once did, Lagerfeld was applying the lessons from then to the context of now. Regrettably for the Greek gods, no Greek goddess ever prowled poolside in strapped golden high heels, a ruched bikini, and a transparent cloak, nor a laurel leaf chiffon dress with an inbuilt cloaklet, nor some gorgeous full plissé trousers—super-culottes—worn with coin-fastened silk shirting. But contemporary Greek vacationers will no doubt be delighted to do so.
Antique in its inspirations and true to the house in its articulation (especially that opening marathon of bouclé), this Chanel Resort collection was old-fashioned—no, ancient-fashioned—in the best possible sense. By tomorrow all trace of this temple will disappear, those polystyrene columns uprooted and the olive tree returned to solid ground. Yet the pieces that walked within it should look simultaneously timeless and fresh for seasons to come.
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