Paris Day 7: Heaven for Chanel, Hell for McQueen

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Published March 10, 2009

The Nef (atrium) of Paris’s Grand Palais is starting to feel like the Roman Coliseum as a center for cultural showdowns. There was hardly time to cart off Yves Saint Laurent’s recently-auctioned art and antique collections before Chanel arrived with its Fall 2009 show, bringing with it in a specially constructed theater in the round and a set made entirely of doors for grand entrances and exits. As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California, her home town before Paris, “there’s no there there.” And so the models came and went, over and over, like migrating birds without a perch. (LEFT: AT CHANEL)

Nobody is quicker to pick up the current mood than Karl Lagerfeld and, after presenting Italy’s Fendi and his eponymous brand, he usually saves his biggest blast for Chanel. This season he did it again. Chanel suits are the ultimate in power dressing, but Lagerfeld wrapped them comfortingly like invalids in lace-edged frothy cotton candy pink grandma sweaters. The Chanel clutch bag, a luxury lifestyle staple, was in even more delicate condition, encased in clear plastic, as though on life support under an oxygen tank. To top it off he dressed all the models in Chanel pastel tweed cream cakes—one way to get away from it all—as 70s disco diva Donna Summer moaned an endless orgasm on “Love to Love You Baby.”
Alexander McQueen didn’t have such tender intentions. Even before his Tuesday night “The Horn of Plenty” show at Paris’ Palais Omnisport Bercy, the vast sport and concert stadium, situated under a green grass pyramid on the city’s outskirts, the sinister tone was set. A reproduction of Dutch photographer PH Hendrik Kerstens’ “Bag 2007” featuring a Vermeeresque snap of his daughter Paula—instead of a pearl earring she’s wearing a plastic bag—was hint enough. As a giant pile of twisted discards—dad’s armchair with exposed springs and assorted car parts—smoked in the center of the room, McQueen’s models with red and swollen inflatable doll lips-strutted around in a chic Macabre dance of death wearing umbrella hats in black and white checks to match hourglass grande dame suits. The soundtrack was far too loud for polite listening and the ‘girls’ became increasingly eerie—from swans trapped by their own wings to Lucha Libre babes ready for combat in evening gowns—until the crescendo hit—an EKG alarm before the heart beat went into a long, screaming death.