Chanel in the tropics? Well, of course in her lifetime she never actually ventured to Singapore, the island which lies, lushly and extremely wealthily, down there on the Equator in South Asia, but some of Mademoiselle’s customers did, and now Karl Lagerfeld has with a full entourage from Paris, and planeloads of guests and models flying halfway around the world from all directions some of them, like Dakota Fanning and Stella Tennant, direct from the Costume Institute Gala this past Monday night.
So it was that the centenary of the opening of Gabrielle Chanel’s shop in Deauville in 1913 came to be commemorated with a Lagerfeld-directed movie premiered on the colonial lawns of the Raffles Hotel, and, the next night, at an extravagant cruise show and party held on a sprawling former nutmeg plantation estate, bordering on jungle. I don’t imagine the whole long-haul shebang, with days of preparation on the ground, was onerous for Mr. Lagerfeld: Wherever the next installment of the Chanel travelogue lands, he wants to be there. “I like to travel, but not as a tourist. When I travel, it’s work,” he said.”What I hate most is to feel isolated.”
He was adamant about the fact that he wasn’t interested in designing a studied themed-show for the occasion. “I research with instinct. There are vague impressions of this part of the world only—except for one thing. I came across a photograph from the 1880s of a local fisherman wearing a four-pocket jacket and wide pants. Really quite Chanel, no? “Instead, he served up a light Chanel lesson in 80 looks, a collection that glancingly evoked the sinuous thirties in dresses elegantly cut to mid calf (but sometimes with a modernizing chunk left out of the hem in front), held echoes of the British ex-pat obsession with cricket and, if you looked hard enough, had the occasional hint of an Asian flavor in the vaguely batik-patterned jacquard cashmeres, a wrap skirt, and the flat geometry of some of the jackets. There were witty twists: an actual knot in the heels of pumps and a bag made to look like a Chanel No. 5.
Really, though, this was “about” the eternal relevance of Gabrielle Chanel’s inventions for a summer wardrobe. It began with the template of the low-belted jersey tunics she wore and sold in Deauville the first three looks paired them with wide-leg pants and multiple ropes of pearls. Coco’s sailor-striped T-shirts and pants came out in white kid leather or variations on jeans; pairs dyed in a horizontal pattern reminiscent of utilitarian ikat workwear. Still, the real triumph of Chanel resides in its range from gamine day to beachwear to pretty cocktail and elegant evening, predominantly played out in cream, ivory, and white, in the kind of fabrics that draw gasps of awe from customers when encountered in the hush of a Chanel store.
Needless to say, though, the significance of this event went beyond a mere showing of clothes. This mega jaunt was one of those immersive experiences with which super-luxury fashion houses seduce their customers these days. As A-lists of beautiful Chanel-clad Asian guests actresses, rockstars, and celebrities assembled over two nights of festivities, the atmosphere seemed poised on an invisible fulcrum between a languid fantasy of the luxury of the past and the thrumming power of the Eastern-generated luxury market. Just watching gatherings in full swing made a perfect social snapshot of where fashion aspirations lie now, and how much the porcelain-skinned, immaculately groomed youth athesetic of Asia is changing the way the world sees beauty. One thing’s for certain: it’s the polar opposite of the louche eurocentric outdoorsy casualness that held sway as the signifier of summer luxe in the twentieth century. Coco might have been a pioneer of sunbathing, but a century on, Chanel’s summery dresses are worn by women who wear SPF 50 and carry parasols. Never has a tan seemed less desirable.
“I like using the Chanel family, it’s what Andy Warhol did, no?” said Lagerfeld after the screening. “But the budget was a bit different.” Andy did not have the funds that Chanel has, but when the clip can be seen on the website, its resonance is far longer lasting and further reaching than a mere vanity experiment. And when you see the cheering, sobbing reaction of Chanel’s Singaporean clientele to Lagerfeld’s show, or drop by the Chanel store on Spring Street and watch every counter besieged by customers, well, whatever the dizzying costs of the film, show, parties, transportation, and hotels must have been for Chanel, there is no doubt that Karl Lagerfeld has to be worth it.
Selections by ANDREA JANKE Finest Accessories
Photo Credit/Source: VOGUE
Photography by Louis Kwok
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