Paris Fashion Week: Chanel's watery wonderland

By Susannah Frankel

Guests were welcomed to an underwater playground at the Chanel show in Paris yesterday. As is the custom with this house, the entire interior of the monolithic Grand Palais had been transformed overnight.

The catwalk was a sandy seabed surrounded by undulating Perspex walls. Sprays of coral, pebbles and even the odd pleasingly rounded fish - about the size of a child's bedroom - were strategically placed all around.

The watery theme extended to the opening soundtrack - a bubbly remix of Ride of the Valkyries - and was very much in evidence in the clothes.

Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director of Chanel and the world's last great classically trained couturier, was on light and optimistic form.

Sweet trapeze-line jackets, and more that were backless but cut more closely to the body, were studded with pearls; buttons, belts and models' faces and hair were also embellished with Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's gem of choice.

References to the heritage of this grand fashion name didn't stop there. The Chanel suit in optic white, or sea blue and green tweeds; the little black dress embellished with circles of chiffon at the hip; the camellia - pretty in pale pink on a print - were all in evidence, as they always must be.

That is not to say that Lagerfeld is so immersed in history that he doesn't keep up with more contemporary concerns. Far from it. The brilliance of the man lies at least partly in his apparently limitless affinity with youth culture.

It's a delicate balance. Chanel, a bastion of bourgeois fashion must avoid alienating its older customers while bringing new ones into the fold. The fusion of the elegant and dignified and the fresh and new this time around was seamless.

Opalescent cocktail dresses fluttered like anemones and were of the sort that would make even the most po-faced red carpet a happier place. Sixties-line shifts were light and easy and the more mature Chanel customer will no doubt find them lengthened somewhat in store.

Couture elements - ruffled and pleated chiffon, and more exquisitely refined beading and embroidery than a wealthy woman could wish for - rubbed shoulders with skinny leather jeans, hotpants and gauzy, oversized knits.

Lagerfeld lowered the heel for the most part: silver ankle boots rested on nothing more vertiginous than an upturned seashell and this added to the contemporary flavour.

At the end of the show, the Wagnerian soundtrack gave way to Florence Welch, who sang for the audience. Lagerfeld took his bows with the performer dressed in an ankle-length Chanel gown.


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