Karl Lagerfeld gets a lot of his inspiration from dreams, but he didn't need any help from them today, because he already had Last Year at Marienbad, that hallucinatory slice of avant-garde celluloid from the early sixties, on his mind. Some would say that, despite its storied reputation, it's the most boring movie ever made, but for Lagerfeld—and Chanel—it inspired a breathtakingly surreal setting: a monochrome ornamental garden, complete with fountains, which mirrored one of the film's most famous scenes. A full orchestra of 80 musicians sawed through romantic arrangements of Björk, the Verve, and John "007" Barry to soundtrack the 18-minute show (positively epic by today's ADD standards). The models, meanwhile, paraded in a carefully schematic way that had a little of Marienbad's arch, rigorous formality. It all conspired to make the boldness of the clothes even more audacious.
It was as though Lagerfeld had taken scissors to Chanel—or maybe unleashed a cloud of ninja moths. The first outfits were riddled with holes that recalled Rei Kawakubo's "new lace," so radical in the early eighties. After the show, the designer said new fabrics were one of his touchstones for the collection, but he distressed them with selvedge, ragged edges, and a lattice of perforations. That chaotic quality persisted in dégradé chiffon florals or a monochrome tweed patchwork. The classic suit was reconfigured as a swingy A-line jacket with three-quarter sleeves and shorts as often as skirts. Almost everything had an unfinished feel, a thready, feathered edge. It loaned an enthralling urgency, and the fierce young spirit in the collection could be read as a swingeing riposte to the cutesiness that sometimes overtakes Chanel's ready-to-wear. There were more than 80 models in the show, and each outfit created a character so individual that the clothes truly held their own against the majestic backdrop.
Marienbad seeded the collection in another way. Coco Chanel herself designed Delphine Seyrig's clothes for the film, and they were echoed in a final passage of black lace dresses tufted with coq feathers. It was a slightly wild detail that made a perfect capstone to this captivating show, even more so when the sea of black was interrupted by Carmen Kass, undulating down the surreal allée in a quivering cloud of apricot feathers.