Is fashion art? The everlasting debate and the number one topic of all first year fashion school essays, it is an explosive and somewhat tedious question best left unasked. So what better way for Karl Lagerfeld – fashion’s eternal sarcastic commentator – to celebrate his recent [reportedly] eightieth birthday than to go headfirst into the land that no one dares to enter? For his Chanel collection, he approached the subject of art from all angles: it drew on the artsy fartsy woman who frequents fancy vernissages, on the transformation of art into fashion, and on the topic of garments as works of art in their own right. In his usual Jack-of-all-trades manner, Monsieur had whipped up a few dozen gigantic, somewhat parodic art pieces, which lined the walls and the floor of his bright white runway, transforming the Grand Palais into a museum of modern art. (Word on the rows was that Lagerfeld’s BFFs would each get to pick a piece after the show.)
'I just want a Picasso in my casa, no, my castle,' Jay-Z sang on the soundtrack, hinting at the social commentary weaved into Lagerfeld’s Chanel jackets. It was expressed most obviously in framed evening bags, which served as an image of society’s artification of fashion commodities, or in a huge portfolio bag used as a convenience bag. Next to the set and the music, they were priceless examples of Lagerfeld’s genius sense of humour, and his ability to create something beautiful and covetable, which integrates the funny and the meaningful all at once. (The fact that another evening bag could hold exactly three mobile phones described Lagerfeld’s view of the world better than anything, as did necklaces resembling big headphones.)
But it was in its garments that the Chanel collection definitively distinguished itself as one of the best of the season. Breaking with the repetition that defines most fashion shows these days, each exit had its own character – not unlike paintings in a gallery – and its own arty element, like dresses in painted leather, or dresses, skirts and tops in a print comprised of a 150-tone colour palette. Bubblegum pink, sock shoes (i.e. a shoe with a built-in sock), and textiles woven with ribbons reflected the eccentricity of the art world, while the addition of 3D elements such as feathers and silver ball embellishments represented sculpture. And while Lagerfeld’s intention with the heart monitor sensors that ornamented a candyfloss pink jumper may not have been entirely clear, he certainly managed to resuscitate the season.