In seasons past, Karl Lagerfeld has given us the Chanel art gallery, the Chanel supermarché, Brasserie Gabrielle, the Chanel casino…you get the idea. His fanciful dream worlds always come with clever novelty accessories, outrageous sets, and a treasure trove of runway moments made for Instagram. Fall 2016 was different. Always one to have his finger on the pulse, Lagerfeld didn’t have to look to the cultural zeitgeist for his theme (or did he?) because today, the theme was fashion itself.
Lagerfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a couture atelier, reminiscent of Chanel’s own mirrored 31 Rue Cambon headquarters, and made sure each guest had a front row seat. Naturally, this setup spawned the hashtag #FrontRowOnly, but more importantly, it recalled the intimate fashion presentations of yore. (Though in reality, this was more massive than intimate, and models had to walk through an endless maze of chairs, which is perhaps why Chanel’s Fall women donned either tweed and leather combat boots or a kitten heel.)
The collection itself felt like an ode to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel—or, at the very least, her work. Minaudières came shaped like spools of thread; oversized khaki trenches and tweed knits resembled the men’s clothes she’d sometimes wear; and hats looked like chic caricatures of the simple brimmed style that Chanel—who, if you’ll remember, got her start as a milliner—favored. (Lagerfeld’s, however, boasted embellished chinstraps and little handles that made for easy carrying). The brand’s iconic faux pearl necklaces were big and bountiful (models were draped in strands upon strands of them) and there was an ease to everything from shocking pink tweed suits to wide, camellia flower-print trousers—just how Coco would have wanted.
With all the talk about the broken fashion system, the flood of largely implausible suggestions for fixing it, and the increasing demand for speed, Lagerfeld could not have picked a better angle for this lineup. Fall 2016 was a celebration of fashion for fashion’s sake, as well as a reminder of what the house of Chanel is all about (with Lagerfeld’s personal flourishes, of course, like an abundance of Choupette baubles).
Lagerfeld recently called the industry “a mess,” and proclaimed that the see-now-buy-now model would be “the end of everything.” With that in mind, it may seem contradictory that, just last week, the designer told me that “fashion has to evolve with time. It has to evolve with everything else that’s going on in the world. But,” he continued, “it’s a very strange thing—it’s like a dish composed of many different ingredients.” Lagerfeld’s latest ingredients are an embrace of the present, and a respect for history and craft. He’s already proven that he’s a master of evolution. He produces luxury collections at the speed of light and, through his designs, has struck a rare balance between timelessness, creativity, desirability, and social media appeal. But at the end of the day, Lagerfeld’s real triumph is that he does what he does, and he does it brilliantly. Regardless of what production model brands decide to adopt after this confusing and tumultuous season, it would be wise for them to heed Karl’s apparent strategy: Make things people want. Make them well. And if you do that, they’ll sell.