The Chanel Hoedown
It took a French house to do it, but Texas is back
There’s a lot of pride in Texas. It took spending less than 24 hours there for me to come to that conclusion. Sensibly so — it’s a state that seems so rooted in our history, so integral to the soul of the United States, The American Struggle and the subsequent road to triumph. And particularly in Dallas, a city amidst a creative renaissance, did that sense of emphatic pride pour through every conversation that took place between the local and the misplaced Americans in town to celebrate Karl Lagerfeld’s 2013 Métiers d’Art show.
If last year’s event in Edinburgh moonlit as the regal wedding ceremony and reception that betrothed Karl Lagerfeld to the town in Scotland, Tuesday night’s show, held at Fair Park, a national historic landmark in Dallas, was a decadent vow renewal, officiating the paramount bond not between Chanel and any number of its previous preferred cities or even its place de naissance, Paris, but between Chanel and its heretofore most significant ally.
When I walked into the landmark-cum-convention center, it didn’t matter what would happen or how it would happen. It would be impressive. As one employee to Fair Park put it when asked whether the constructed-from-scratch bridge, linking two separate rooms (one, I might add, boasted a mechanical bull under which Mr. Lagerfeld spent a good portion of his night clapping for his friends while they held themselves up on the abruptly oscillating machinery with poise) was safe to walk on, she quipped, rolling her eyes to indicate how silly the question was that “Yeah, it’s Chanel.” Duh.
The night started in a large, abandoned, factory-sized makeshift drive-thru movie screening room. 70 vintage cars were parked across a long floor, appropriately illuminated by anything-but-hackneyed haystacks and neon lights. The cars waited for their passengers to occupy the seats and then, cue rolling credits, Karl Lagerfeld’s short film, The Return, commenced.
The short’s context seeded us in Dallas with a purpose: we were celebrating a rebirth. One manufactured by Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus in 1957, just three years after Coco Chanel reopened her business after a fifteen year closure prompted by World War II. Her return to fashion was turbulent if not dismal — the criticism was plenty, fans few but as evidenced by the film, American press stood behind an untrammeled understanding that Coco Chanel was a visionary.
In 1957, Marcus invited Chanel to receive The Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service and following her acceptance, a surprise fashion show took place, chased by a lavish dinner. They say history repeats itself and so I suppose that 57 years later, we were fulfilling that prophecy – granted, with Frito-Lay bagged chili and Texan whiskey — but the ponchos were everything.
Karl Lagerfeld was famously quoted for saying “I love Texas. I love Texans” during the last WWD CEO Summit. Such a declaration would make perfect sense after having observed his version of Texas, constructed from the depths of his ineffable imagination.
A history lesson evoked the spirit of the Old West with a hint of Saloon-style dressing in knee-length robes that boasted virginal white ruffles, in addition to the surely-to-make-headlines Indian headdress that closed the show on Caroline de Maigret. Interspersed among less abrasive feather headbands were more traditional cowgirl cadences of bolo ties and the smart, unobtrusive use of denim. The mid-length skirts were paired with knee high boots that slouched, and the fringe ranged from suede to knit.
The unanimous, post-show response was an electrified, “Wow.”
You know how if you wear a pair of sunglasses, the lenses often saturate what you see? The sky will appear slightly bluer, the grass a bit greener, your skin a touch more sun-kissed. Though Coco Chanel once said that “good taste is something spiritual,” it’s also kind of like that pair of sunglasses. The collection could have functioned as a hideously obvious homage to the West. To denim, and cowboy boots and hats. But it was a far stretch from that. It was a pair of sunglasses disguising a collection that told of gratitude, respect, admiration, amiability and excitement when considering authentic American style.
And to see not just American style, but American style underscored by the hallmark of French style, and the house that has both contributed to and created French style — that is ample enough reason for any Texan to feel proud.