Karl Lagerfeld’s Final Bow
Tuesday this week was the last time models would walk down the runway in Karl Lagerfeld’s designs for the house of Chanel. The late designer, who sadly passed away only two weeks ago, was one of the most famous and prolific designers of our time.
Even after 36 years at the helm of Chanel, his collections for the house were highly anticipated season after season. He designed six of them a year (besides being creative director of Fendi and having his own brand), yet every season he would reinterpret the iconic Chanel tweed suits and quilted bags, and produce the most breathtaking and avant-garde collections.
Besides being a designer, Karl was also a photographer and filmmaker - storytelling was his forte. Even as someone who has only watched the Chanel shows on a computer, the shows would transport me to a new place every time. The sets were always the most spectacular - a life-size rocket launching in the Grand Palais, or a runway made of sand with real waves ebbing - yet, they never overshadowed Karl’s designs. Instead they carried the garments better than any blank canvas, making the life of that particular season’s Chanel girl so believable that you in fact wanted to be her.
It is ironic how I am now looking back at the work of a man known for being fixated on the present, but Karl Lagerfeld made it impossible for us to forget the past. He connected each show to a distinct theme and place, filling them with cultural and historical references that only the most intelligent would spot.
The first Chanel show I remember watching in fascination is still to this day my favorite collection by Karl. The Fall 2011 ready-to-wear show was set in a dark and mysterious forest with models walking out of a light-box surrounded by fog. The collection was androgynous, with loose fit trousers paired with combat boots, cropped jackets layered over blazers, and all in dark hues of Chanel tweed. Not only was the collection incredibly wearable, it also showed how the classic codes of such an iconic house could be made modern and ageless.
Another show I so vividly recall watching from my bedroom was the Cruise 2011/12 show set at the beautiful Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc. I still carry the image of Abbey Lee Kershaw walking up the hotel’s iconic pathway in a yellow skirt suit and white boots to the sound of Hercules & Love Affair’s Painted Eyes. The setting was spectacular, and the clothes were even more so.
Another favorite of mine was the 2014 Métiers d’Art Show, when Karl took Chanel to Dallas, Texas. The classic tweed suits were reinterpreted to match the theme of the American West. Fringed skirts and jackets, cowboy boots and denim, and eveningwear embroidered with red and silver stars. Such a literal homage to the all American culture and a reference to Coco Chanel’s 1954 comeback collection that was rejected by the French, but praised by the Americans.
The list of breathtaking Chanel shows is endless, and I could go on by mentioning the time Karl took Chanel to the Linlithgow Palace in Scotland or the Elbephilharmonie in Hamburg, or the time he transformed the Grand Palais to a canyon complete with waterfalls, cliffs and trees, replicating the Gorges du Verdon. But Tuesday he took us to the last place on his list, a place in the mountains on a beautiful winters day, and even though he was not there to take his bow, it was unquestionable that he had left his final mark on the house of Chanel.
Watching the show, sent shivers down my spine (no pun intended). It started with one minute of silence for Karl, followed by an audio recording of him discussing the creative evolution of Chanel in French, before finishing with a statement in English; “Oh! It’s like walking in a painting!” The models walked on the incredibly believeable snow-like surface, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and life-size chalets. Some were teary-eyed, some smiling, but all incredibly proud to be draped in beautiful designs by the late designer. Karl Lagerfeld let it be known that he had a contract for life at Chanel, and this collection proved he enjoyed it to his final moment.
Written by Sophie M. Jebsen