Chanel’s Forest Fairies

Karl Lagerfeld packs so much into one Chanel Haute Couture show, it’s possible to lose one’s way to the new collection by exploring everything that surrounds it.

Take the monumental décor—this season it was a garden walk through a forest’s worth of pine trees, birdsong and piped-in morning mist inside Paris’s Grand Palais.

You might forget fashion and launch into debate about the current furor in France over gay and lesbian marriage, and even single-sex parenting, encouraged by the show’s double-bride finale with model Brad Kroenig’s precious son Hudson in tow.

Or you could take in the many facets of Chanel by people-watching all of Karl’s handpicked it-girls in the audience: Diane Kruger in beret and white-collared baby-doll dress; Hailee Steinfeld looking so ingénue in a bias plaid cardigan and newsboy cap with a taxi-yellow Chanel clutch; or Claire Boucher, a.k.a. Mademoiselle Grimes, in rue Cambon’s version of full-on Harajuku cute: white ruffles, clunky lace-ups, tons of necklaces, and hair dripping with silk roses.

But the pièce de résistance here is the Midsummer Night’s Dream-inspired Haute Couture collection, one of Lagerfeld’s most delicate, with a bedraggled chic that recalls silent-film star Lillian Gish, or a romp in the woods with the fairies.

Boots are rarely Chanel’s focal point, but Lagerfeld put them up so high on the leg that they might have been pants with feet. These, in mixtures of lace, spacey silver, or even tweed, often featured open toes. Lagerfeld’s spring tailoring invention for Chanel is to make the house jackets and skirts into coats styled like an off-the-shoulder dress over a turtleneck. In oversized basket-weave wool with the turtleneck in solid white beading, these were demure and stylized, exaggeratedly delicate, and, frankly, odd in a good way.

Were those long, drawn-out floral dresses, expressed in solid sequins, a pure sigh of faded glamour, like a southern belle in her twilight years? There was hardly time to dwell on that, because by the show’s end, Lagerfeld had switched to tattered chiffon intertwined with feathers and crystals for shady pastel ladies with legs in black stretch-leather boots: sultry, slightly melancholy, and mischievous.