Karl Lagerfeld was exultant. Twelve months of planning for Chanel's 2013 Cruise presentation and, the week before the big day, current events conspired to completely recontextualize the show, injecting a delicious layer of irony into the time and place. His succinct summation—"Versailles in a Socialist France"—said it all. Up until last week's election, which restored a left-wing government to power, Lagerfeld's collection was a gleeful mash-up of hip-hop edge—à la his favorite Azealia Banks or M.I.A.—and Louis Quatorze's eighteenth-century court at Versailles, the focal point of a period that history recognizes as France's last Golden Age, with Louis the Sun King at its pinnacle. Soundmeister Michel Gaubert dubbed the hybrid "Ghetto royale." He obliged Karl with an M.I.A. track whose refrain, "Live fast, die young/Bad girls do it well," might have been Marie Antoinette's musical signature if she'd lived a couple centuries later. She might even have joined Alice Dellal and Karla Lagerfeldas, who played an exuberantly retro-punk set at the post-show cocktail.
Lagerfeld has proved himself a master of this high-low hybrid in recent times. Here, formal eighteenth-century details, like panniers and fichus, were re-created in casual twenty-first-century fabrics—chambray, tech denims, even plastics—dressed up with frothy lace ruffles and cuffs, and dressed down with gold platform trainers and short shorts. Occasionally awkward though it may have been, the lightness, the girlishness, of the clothes had a balletic quality, reflective perhaps of Louis' own love of dance. Lagerfeld said he wanted something floating and frivolous. "Frivolity is a healthy attitude," he said after the show. "I know people who were saved by frivolity."
But the levity of that declaration was lent some provocative weight by the election. Clearly equating President-elect François Hollande's incoming government with a general shriveling of the French jeu d'esprit (although that is, in itself, something of a myth), Lagerfeld went on to say, "I don't want the rest of the world to think of France as a sad, gloomy country. They won't come to buy our products." A worrying prospect for someone who never fails to crowd his catwalk with an overabundance of clothing and accessories. "Too many ideas," wailed Inès de la Fressange jokily as she leaned in to bestow a congratulatory kiss. "Too creative." Lagerfeld glazed one tweed in gold, sequined another in pale blue, embroidered a tiny sundress with gold bullion, and applied the most delicate floral beading to snowy white handkerchief linen. Watercolor florals suggested Watteau maidens; male models Brad Kroenig and Jon Kortajarena were dressed in britches as their swains. "It's nothing that literal," Lagerfeld insisted, but the Rococo echoes added some charm.
The show took place around three of the furiously spouting fountains for which Versailles is famous. Guests then trained through the grounds to the cocktail at the Bosquet des Rocailles, where Louis staged theatrical productions. (Could it be true that Marie Antoinette's "farm," the private playpen where she'd go to play-act ordinary folks, was just through the trellised fence?) Speaking of imperial whim, look no further than the gall of the guy who persisted with plans for a ginormous outdoor spectacle while the heavens were blessing Paris with six weeks of nonstop rain. Guess what? Glorious Sol came out on cue. So who's the Sun King now?