Front Row Only at Chanel

Is this Karl Lagerfeld’s unofficial “goodbye”?


The invitation to Chanel’s Fall 2016 show was sparse. On it was drawn a single chair and over it read, “Front row only.”

The Grand Palais — scene of the elaborate sets that we have become conditioned to expect of Chanel — was sparse, too. With just white carpets and rows and rows of plastic gold chairs (front row only, of course), it was modeled to look like the atelier where Gabrielle Chanel first started showing her collections in Paris. That the show would occur just the morning after Saint Laurent’s similarly-themed collection (the clothes had nothing to do with each other, of course, but that nostalgic couture feel evoked a parallel) was perhaps fortuitous, perhaps much more telling of the pulse on which the zeitgeist currently rests.

And the clothes! The clothes were great. The most recent few collections: Chanel’s airline, Chanel’s brasserie, Chanel’s grocery store, Chanel’s “Picasso baby” art gallery took some of the attention off the clothes. We were far too invested in the scene! The props! The models! The spectacle, really, to notice that this is really the house where couture became ready-to-wear.

The show commenced with a series of hats (all of which featured chin straps, so don’t worry about the wind) and layers and layers of pearls. An obvious homage to Coco. The tweed blazers became sequined dresses, which became a series of trench coats and chiffon skirts that also made room for what looked like a bravura of white layered couture looks. There were two menswear looks as well and as great as it felt, as fast as my own heart started to race, it also seemed somewhat bittersweet. Like we were sitting on history, at the brink of change.

There have been rumors about a possible retirement from Karl Lagerfeld. And bringing the house right back to where it started, with a whole bunch of hats and some men’s tweed suits made to measure on the female form made me feel as though he’s prepping to hand the keys off. Here we are, the spectacular sequins seemed to say, right where we started. Let’s do this again.

Of course, this is just speculation. It’s unlikely to think that Lagerfeld would let his tenure — the dream model for relationships between fashion houses and creative directors, and perhaps the most monumental of its kind — saunter out in a whisper. But then again, from a legacy perspective and what remains following the smoke and mirrors of an Instagram show, the clothes from this collection are exactly the type to live on and remind us all that we’re living in Chanel’s heyday.

Photographs via Vogue Runway.


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