Karl Lagerfeld recently acquired a full set of stills from 1927's apocalyptic sci-fi classic Metropolis, signed by the film's director Fritz Lang to its young star Brigitte Helm. It was sheer coincidence, however, that there was a Metropolis feel to the set for today's Chanel haute couture show. Or was it? The backdrop for the presentation was a neon-limned mock-up of the Place Vendôme, with Napoleon replaced at the top of his column by a robot Coco. (In Lang's movie, a mad scientist makes a robot replica of Helm.) The set was dark and glistening, like rain had just fallen. A perfect film noir atmosphere, in other words. And Lagerfeld had the perfect script for it—Coco's own life story.
At least that was one way to look at a collection that seemed to chop through time. It clearly wasn't a chronological arc. The show opened with Chanel tweed suits, which didn't make their appearance until the twenties, and it closed with "lamp shade" evening silhouettes that echoed the work of Paul Poiret, the early twentieth-century Parisian designer whom Chanel helped render irrelevant with her innovations. Michel Gaubert's soundtrack, meanwhile, created an aural equivalent of the temporal mash-up by following new English pop with bursts of Stravinsky (he was Coco's lover in the twenties). But Lagerfeld had already prepared us for this when he called the collection Les Allures de Chanel. Plural—he wanted to emphasize her multifacetedness.
But, if the clothes themselves were any guide, he also wanted to preserve Coco's mystery. The collection was so dominated by shades of black, gray, and midnight blue that the odd accents of fuchsia looked like less-than-happy accidents. Even when Lagerfeld used white, he defused it with a drizzle of dark beading or a shadowy veil or even a glittery black tank. The mood felt like an organic follow-on from the dystopia of the Fall ready-to-wear show. As with that collection, the lack of compromise, particularly with the tricky peplum-over-narrow-skirt silhouette, could challenge brand fans. But the somber luxury of the wardrobe Karl Lagerfeld is proposing for dark times is immensely seductive.