The cream of the London scene (and I) were out in force last night to mark the launch of Chanel's pre-fall 'Paris-Londres' collection at Dover Street Market. The 64-look, London-inspired range was previewed in London last December and is part of the house's 'Metiers d'Arts' range, which aims to showcase the virtuoso craftsmenship of the seven ateliers Chanel has purchased over the past decade. These include the legendary embroidery house of Lesage, master of feathers Lemarié, the creator of Chanel's couture shoes Massaro and miliner Michel.
It must be said that a huge turn-out to a fashion press jamboree isn't necessarily a gauge of its cultural import. With advertising quotas foremost in magazines' minds during these economically crunching times, the need to 'be seen' at such events by ones sponsors is paramount.
What made the Paris-Londres unveiling more significant than your average shop opening, however, was its context. Chanel, of course, has several splendid boutiques across London where they could have celebrated the new collection and with the exception of a collaboration with Colette in 2003, the house has never before sold its apparel via a non-Chanel outlet.
The rationale behind Lagerfeld's choice of context -Rei Kawakubo's prestigious fashion emporium- was made apparent in his 'Image Department's' approach to displaying the merchandise. Paris-Londres wares could be found on every one of Dover Street's five floors, presented as 'interventions' in the Japanese designer's cleverly selected array of the finest international designers.
The effect was of a rather clever art exhibition (I was put in mind of Penelope Curtis's brilliant show 'Private View' at the Bowes Museum in 1997, where contemporary artists were furtively installed among the institution's classical permanent display). As such, Kawakubo was asserted as Curator, Lagerfeld as guerrila situationist and Dover Street as the thinking person's alternative to the 'Superbrands' mall experience. All of which is pretty shrewd, when of course what we are really talking about is selling frocks and bags.
But the genius of Karl Lagerfeld is in avoiding seeming to take himself too seriously, so these highly considered exhibits were off-set by hilarious cardboard cut-outs of the designer himself, just in case you lost sight of who is the real star of the show. The only down note for me was the 'handbag bar' upstairs. A great idea in principle and certainly a contrast in tone from Emma Hawkins' beautiful taxidermy artefacts installed around it. But as my (poorly taken) picture shows, when you zoom in, it's little more than another slick department store concession.
The show continues until 25th June...