A huge terrace with a fireplace—it has always been in Karl Lagerfeld's mind as a beautiful idea, ever since he saw photos of the visionary architect Le Corbusier's long-gone Paris apartment. "I just never found a place to do it," he said after the Chanel show today. Until now, of course, when the gigantic forest-planting, iceberg-importing, supermarket-building extravaganzas of Chanel shows past were scaled down to mimic the stark geometry of Corbu's designs. At either end of the catwalk were huge fireplaces stoked with digital flames. Above the mantel, a big old baroque mirror. Brutalist and baroque: A typically provocative union from a designer who skates across time like fashion's answer to Doctor Who.
But it wasn't simply with the setting that Lagerfeld indulged his long-cherished dream. Le Corbusier was the architect who made concrete a staple of modern design. So Lagerfeld made concrete the foundation of his collection. Concrete! In Haute Couture! When you turn it into tiny tiles, it becomes a beautiful mosaic. Who knew? Lagerfeld delightedly demonstrated the material's unexpected lightness by dangling a string of concrete beads under the noses of journalists. "Tongue in chic," he crowed. "Very chic."
That twistedness was the key to the collection. The word couture implies cutting and seaming. There was none of that here. Everything was molded rather than seamed. "It's Haute Couture without the Couture," said Lagerfeld, tongue firmly in cheek. And yet there was look after look of a gorgeousness so exquisite it could only be achieved in ateliers that were accustomed to confronting the impossible—and mastering it. It must help that Lagerfeld always has the future in mind as he cherry-picks his way through the past. Take lace and coat it with silicone. Think pink, but think plastic, too. Tatter, shred, disrespect and make something new. That was all in keeping with the much-touted youth-ifying of Couture. Sam McKnight's hair and Maison Michel's little hats perched pertly on the back of the models' heads had the effect of a Haircut 100 cover from The Face circa 1982. The effect was compounded by Lagerfeld building his silhouette on shorts. There were coatdresses over shorts, jackets and skirts over shorts, plus the perfect shoes for shorts—sandals. Given the molded, sculpted nature of the clothes, Lagerfeld liked the ease of a flat. "The models can walk in those dresses like they're nothing," he said.
The show closed with a passage of long, chalk-white, almost penitent gowns, lavished with embroidery. The combination not only embodied the brutalist/baroque twinning of Lagerfeld's inspiration, it also echoed the duality of Coco Chanel's own life, the austerity of her professional self countered by the exotic orientalism of Coco at home. It made for a stunning contrast, matched only by the final foxtrot of Karl and his seven-months-pregnant bride, the Kiwi model Ashleigh Good. "I like pregnant women," he said, in keeping with his new cat-loving, godfather-ing public persona. "She looks so elegant, so noble."