We were inside the Grand Palais, but we were also seated inside the auditorium of a convincingly, dangerously derelict theater. Opera wailed, the last hurrah for alt-kultur. The tattered curtains parted, and there, rising among the ruins, was a shimmering, futuristic backdrop, an Emerald City on the Far Eastern frontier. Chanel, under the fiendishly clever tutelage of Karl Lagerfeld, had yet again compelled hundreds of people to suspend disbelief, surrender to an illusion so complete that we might as well have been sitting in an audience for "the feelies," the immersive cinematic experience that Aldous Huxley, in his Brave New World, imagined would control people in the future.
Brave New World? Sticking with the sci-fi theme, there was also something of Fritz Lang's Metropolis in the context Lagerfeld was creating. Could we view this collection as Lagerfeld's Lang moment? "My whole life is a Fritz Lang moment," he snapped back when that question was put to him. Regardless, something clicked here. The moviemaker and the fashion designer, kindred spirits in their complete control of self-willed worlds, both adept at drawing on the past to create a vision of the future. "On the way from the Old World to the New World," was Lagerfeld's summation of his spectacular mise-en-scène. "And fashion is the only way to make the trip." A valet brushed lint from his jacket as he spoke, the very image of Old World grace. Meanwhile, Rihanna and her flock of cell-phone-wielding fans, ebbing and flowing nearby, were the quintessence of the not-so-gracious New.
Getting down to the clothes, Lagerfeld mentioned "tradition with future." There were period proportions and details—fichus, portrait necklines, volumes and silhouettes that evoked Victoriana, Edwardiana, Something-Elsiana—but there were also fabrics that were not of this world: eerie, diaphanous stuff, glittering circuitry, 3-D effects that felt like Escher. Lagerfeld pictured the headgear as a salute to Grace Jones, but the hairdos and defined eyebrows of the models also brought to mind Rachael the Replicant from Blade Runner, another cinematic reference point for its marriage of past and future. In fact, you couldn't go far enough with the filmic analogies. The collection had the flickering shimmer of a movie projection. Pavéed sequins, tweeds woven with Lurex (except that it was a concatenation of embroidery, not a weave at all), gray flannel silvered to a sheen, lamé, mirrors…the sparkle of stardust, Lagerfeld called it. In the canon of dream-induced collections from the maestro, this one would seem to come pretty high. A Fall Couture collection it might have been, but it was showing in midsummer, and that is probably the most famous dream of all.
But before we got too carried away on gossamer wings, Lagerfeld had slung a wide, weighty belt around everything. And he'd rooted his designs in suede stocking boots (even if they were attached to a garter belt). Erin Wasson wore a very sensible suit in army-green tweed (with sparkle). That was only one of the serious ensembles that made up a convincing daywear offering. The venue might have been in ruins, but this show will run and run.