For some designers, the catwalk is the first glimpse into the concept of their collection - the first hint at the clothes to come. A raw wooden set indicating a return to nature; a polished salon to showcase a bourgeoisie revival. For Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel, the catwalk is somewhat different: if it's an iceberg, he's doing Inuit; if it's a rose-rambled barn, he's doing pastoral. In short, at Chanel the catwalk is the tin, and the clothes do just what it says on it.
The Chanel catwalk today was black, and surprise surprise, so were almost all of the clothes on it. It was also steaming hot, rigged-up to resemble smouldering volcanic ash, and the models strutted out in workwear staples on a shaky series of wooden palettes. Was this Lagerfeld's couture reimagining of miners' garb? There were plenty of overalls for sure, his embroidered in tiny sequins or openworked in lace and broiderie anglaise.
There was no focus whatsoever in this collection - but that's not what Chanel does. Chanel is Lagerfeld's playground, where he can indulge a thousand and one ideas, eschew trends, reinvent the wheel again and again and know that the black of that catwalk reflects the black of Chanel's bank-balance. Reassuringly black on the balance sheets, and endlessly black when it comes to the houses' bottomless coffers.
What were the new ideas Lagerfeld showed today? Well, those overalls were kind of new - I'm not sure how they fit with what the mood of the season, but certainly Chanel is the only label where you can pick up a pailette-strewn onesie alongside those chic boucle suits everyone seems to be doing. Lagerfeld, of course, offered plenty of them. The jacket was sometimes reinvented as a cape, and they came not only in black and white, but pepped through with red. One came out over a blouse with high ruffled collar, knotted up with a fat aquamarine bow. That looked different to everything else - it hardly fitted the couture coalworker mood, unlike Baptiste Giabiconi's down-and-dirty greaser scrubs, for example - but it was still great. As was everything, for the right customer.
That's really what Lagerfeld's Chanel is all about: choice, something that all truly modern fashion should offer. The days of the designer-cum-dictator are well and truly over: the current endless, incessant discussion of hemlines feels amusing only because it harks back to a distant and archaic past, rather than over any genuine concern over flashing thighs or hobbling knees. Which is another thing to point out - Lagerfeld's cut meant there wasn't a single dress, skirt, pair of trousers or even set of overalls that didn't sit perfectly on the model. There was nothing you couldn't imagine a woman (or, kudos to Baptiste, a man) living their modern life in. Modern. That's the word that springs to mind again and again when looking at Lagerfeld's shows. Very welcome it is too.