Essay: Handbag by Chanel
Fashion is often criticised for a glib disregard of seasons - Spring/Summer shows packed with fur and Autumn/Winter collections largely comprised of not-so-large diaphanous chiffon dresses. Karl Lagerfeld on the contrary is a resolute pragmatist: his recent Autumn/Winter 2010 Chanel collection was appropriately staged on an iceberg winched in from Sweden, and featured models clad head to toe in fake fur and sporting accessories - such as this - that seemed to be crafted from cubes of ice.
Even mores than his practicality, however, Karl Lagerfeld is known for his wit, particularly his humorous reinterpretations of Chanel trademarks. You wouldn't guess at first glance, but this bag has them in abundance - double-C logo as closure and chain strap both plucked straight from the Chanel 2.55 handbag. Even the intertwined fur links to the house's tradition - usually executed in fine calfskin on Chanel handbags and belts, in this case Lagerfeld has chosen to reinterpret that in faux fur.
It's interesting that Lagerfeld chose quite pointedly to use fake fur in this collection, when at Chanel he literally has all the furriers of the world at his disposal. This links neatly with his frequent riffs on trompe l'oeil: in the 1980s he created a couture evening dress quilted with beads to resemble a Chanel handbag. This minaudière again pretends to be something it is not - a cube of ice, cracked down the middle (for practicality) but with as great verisimilitude as possible.
Although this is a piece from the ready-to-wear collection, this bag employs all the skills and techniques utilised by Lagerfeld in his haute couture. The obvious question, however, when looking at this flight of fashion fancy, is who exactly would wear it? The obvious answer is the legions of Lagerfeld's fans that have been buying his work consistently since the early eighties. Chanel is one of the very few houses that is entirely privately owned rather than managed by a luxury goods conglomerate, and the house is consistently profitable. This is not just through traditional leaders such as perfume, but accessories, clothing and even the haute couture division at Chanel turns a profit.
There is little of the practical Lagerfeld I spoke of earlier in this creation - however, Lagerfeld designs for a multitude of houses and hence has a multitude of design 'hats' that he can put on himself. He has often said that many of his Chanel collections come to him in dreams, and admitted that this one is no exception. These kind of fantastical, dream-like items, however, came out amongst eminently wearable tweed suits and fake-fur coats. The reason for these fantasy pieces? Simple: to enable women to dream. Whether or not they will really be produced commercially is another matter, but the demand Lagerfeld creates for this unusual and iconic pieces cannot be underestimated. If there is a price, women will pay it.