Chanel is on vacation. It's part of the definition of its Cruise line, right there in the name. So Karl Lagerfeld led his legions to Singapore. It's boiling here, 100 degrees in the shade, but that's not to suggest Lagerfeld has slowed down a bit. On the contrary, he showed a collection—collection, he clarified, not pre-collection—as vast and various as any of his other ready-to-wear bounties. This one, though, in the spirit of Cruise, had a holidaying pluck. There was a fifties-inflected soundtrack, with snatches of Elvis and Yma Sumac courtesy of Michel Gaubert, and a bouncy ease to the key new silhouette of high-waisted, wide-leg trousers worn with what were essentially oversize T-shirts—though rendered, in appropriately luxe fashion, from white leather and tulle.
That half step toward laddishness—the pearl-trimmed sort championed by the young Coco Chanel, with her menswear fabrics and her suiting, her boys' tailoring inspired by Boy's tailoring—gave the collection its sprightly freshness. After the dark glamour of Fall, with its seductive, witchy toughness, this was a lark. But a summary doesn't give Chanel's craftsmanship its due: the oceans of beaded embroidery, the slick flash of latex-gilded lace, the pitch-black lacquer on Cara Delevingne's plumed cape and skirt. Even Lagerfeld seemed struck by some of the feats. "I have a girl who works with me," he said, "the genius behind all the Chanel materials…. I can tell you, she tortures the manufacturers. She is a tough cookie." So says the toughest.
The question remained: Why Singapore? The label has six stores here, and many were quick to sniff out a play for the Asian market. But Lagerfeld only shrugged and suggested, in effect, that he'd been just about everywhere else. He'd taken inspiration from some elements of Singaporean culture—most notably, the traditional black-and-white woven curtains that adorn the island's homes, which hung around the palatial venue and lent the collection its graphic palette—but further than that, Lagerfeld insisted his Singapore was a dream Singapore. He hadn't researched, not really. "I research with instinct, you see. It has to be a vague impression, but don't get into the details. Reinvent the details."
But some details are too uncanny to invent. He had come across a photo of a Singaporean fisherman from 1880. "The top," he said, "it's a white jacket, black braids, and four pockets. It's unbelievable. This man has a Chanel jacket." Coco avant la lettre.