Chanel, Re-Darned and Valentino, Re-Vamped



The biggest arena for fashion is Paris’s glass-domed Grand Palais and it has inspired Karl Lagerfeld to dream up grandiose stage sets for Chanel, which each season surpasses the last. After fall ready-to-wear’s 265-ton, hand-sculpted iceberg, followed by the forty foot high golden lion for couture, I was wondering what new world the magician of Chanel would transport me to. And so I found myself giddily tripping through a surreal black and white marble vision of a formal garden à la Française with paisley-sculpted parterres and three giant, effusive fountains. The immense grounds were covered with glittering white gravel and an eighty-piece orchestra was ready to launch into The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and something that sounded like a James Bond soundtrack. What looked to me at first like Versailles after a nuclear attack, actually turned out to be inspired by the 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad, which was costumed by Chanel.  That film was a story of dreams and deja vu.
The Chanel suits riddled with artful holes, which opened the show, looked post-nuclear too, but it was total destruction of the most delicate sort, and for a new kind of lace. Lagerfeld lightens the suits with unfinished constructions and feather edging for jackets, or individually applied feathery bits to skirts.  This show played like a family saga, an old aristocratic French family riding through life’s ups and downs. Among the over 80 models in the show, Lagerfeld favorite Brad Kroenig and his two-year-old son Hudson came out in matching bouclé tweed jackets and jeans. And Inès de la Fressange, Karl’s first muse at Chanel who left the house after a tiff in the 80s, made her comeback to applause. What emerged is a new softer, A-line at Chanel with bell shape tops and jackets over rounded skirts and lots of grey.

At Valentino, the future looks bright.  That’s thanks to designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccoli who, after assisting the master for so many years, have understood exactly how to renew the house for a younger generation.  In just a few seasons, these two have rejuvenated proportions, and explored edgier territory without sacrificing Valentino’s signature rich to the point of decadent lace and ruffles. A party dress in flesh beige, scattered with tiny black and white lace flowers, edged in multiple ruffles at the sleeve and belted with a delicate black cord, is almost unreal. Chiuri and Piccoli also mixed up different lace patterns in black and white combinations. The result looks a bit like girls playing dress with their mother’s eveningwear; slightly awkward and totally right.