The greatest thing about Chanel has everything and nothing to do with the clothes. I think I’ve always known this but it hit me over the head last night at the Greek-themed resort 2018 show, which was held at the Grand Palais in Paris. This venue is almost always the brand;s choice when they present in Paris, but it is a bit surprising given Chanel’s ambitious geographic track record (Cuba last year, Seoul the one before) for this particular season.
Of course, it was nothing like any show before it — not even the one where a rocket was launched. We were escorted up a set of stairs into a room, quite small relative to the sheer magnitude of the space, that was decorated to look like Ancient Greece. For a minute, I could have sworn I was actually there. The collection was called “La Modernité de l’Antiquité” (The Modernity of Antiquity) and the garments were a very literal representation of archetypical Grecian relics: most of the shoes (rendered in neon and patent leather) laced up the models’ legs, platform sandals with columns for heels.
There were tie-waist belts and slinky, toga-style (originally Roman) dresses and the most literal braided headbands. It was a collection that was so on the nose, it left nothing to the imagination. No one had to think too hard to get it. As for the “modern,” per the collection’s title, I think the real point is that modernity is almost always still antiquity. That the old things we try to make new never actually become new. Is that so bad, though?
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I like that saying because we’re living inside an era of hyper-innovation, but sometimes I just want to sit back and let things be what they are. You don’t have to go in and reinvent the wheel just to make sure it still works, or to make it “fresh.” On the contrary, you can use tweed, a fabric non-endemic to ancient Greece, to tell your story. There could be acrylic cuffs and layers of chain necklaces. Chanel-branded backpacks and sacks that certainly had no place then but look great now. Doesn’t it make you feel like taking a deep breath? Don’t kill yourself to make something so new! Just do what you want and do it well.
Following the show was an afterparty downstairs featuring a generous display of raw vegetables, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, dried fruits, manifold dips (hummus, tahini, taramasalata, babaganoush and so forth) and very attractive male waiters carrying trays full of fruit smoothies and very French rose wine. Neck pecking, I scanned the room and noticed ecstatic women dressed in head-to-toe runway from the previous three seasons. They were taking pictures and drinking champagne and perhaps plotting what their following season purchase strategies would look like. Here’s where I want to get back to the initial point that I made — that Chanel’s success has everything and nothing to do with the clothes. Everything because the clothes make you feel so damn expensive. Respected. Like you have made it. The accessories are like a gateway drug that promise access and the clothes are it — your stamp of approval or confirmation.
But then they’re nothing, too, because even if fiscal constraints prevent you from buying the clothes, or wearing the clothes, or simply being among the clothes — as long as you care, you’re in.
We talk a lot about the energy of brands. Some deliberately exclude, others want to let you in but aren’t sure how. For all of them, though, it’s the wistful air around their labels that catch you. To have an air that your consumer can read is a state most designers aspire to but only the very focused can sustain. And the focus of Chanel? Of Karl Lagerfeld? Modern, antique, whatever you want to call it — mind-boggling.
Photo by Stephane Cardinale – Corbis and Pascal Le Segretain via Getty Images.