Fashion Review: A Woodland Fable

January 22nd, 2013

Chris Moore/Karl Prouse

Chanel, by Karl Lagerfeld, summer 2013 couture, in Paris.

PARIS — The surreal walk through the woods — flat flowers glowing like fireflies and models’ shoulders framed as if in a portrait — was Chanel’s take on a springtime couture.

The show Tuesday was one of Karl Lagerfeld’s most beautiful collections: subtly realized, superbly inventive in the work of ateliers that can make flat, plastic petals bloom, and, above all, mindful of the reality of dressing Chanel’s many clients.

It seemed significant that the broad, masculine shoulders, which have been the leitmotif of feminism ever since Coco Chanel first raided a man’s wardrobe, were cut out of the picture.

But what a pretty portrait it was! Mr. Lagerfeld described “framed shoulders,” with the famous and familiar tweed jacket snipped away. Necks emerged like the stalks of flowers, one side of the faces and also the hair were a tangle of briars, made up of feathers and tulle. The designer again had a name for it: “a very sophisticated idea of falling leaves.”

“I was born in a forest,” said Mr. Lagerfeld, referring to his German childhood and also to the 15 hectares, or 35 acres, of greenery at a later home in Brittany. How Chanel managed to replicate those woods, planting living trees around a sandy dell in the Grand Palais, was as magical as how Mr. Lagerfeld interpreted that wild wood, with the models’ faunlike legs in lace hose.

The concept of a young woman lost in a forest has, from fairy tales onward, always had an imprint of sexuality. Chanel’s sweet young models seemed knowing as they came out in pairs, not least for the finale of an all-woman wedding with Mr. Lagerfield’s godson, Hudson Kroenig, as a page boy.

There was something of the German fable about this collection — a glimpse at the Lagerfeld Hamburg heritage, which often brings out a heaviness in his work. But not this time. From the traditional Chanel suits, snow white tweed with the sliced shoulders, to the long gowns glowing with flat embroideries, this was a summer collection to relish. But just in case the show was too remote in its wild wood setting, Mr. Lagerfeld, always quick to pick up on a hot performer, planted the British singer Rita Ora with her dirty blonde urban style in Chanel’s front row.

Reaching for your roots but making that wealth of history contemporary is the challenge for all thoughtful designers. Giambattista Valli’s collection was intensely Roman in the way the fine fabrics stroked the body, curving in at the waist and often swelling to fullness at the back. Yet the clothes this season — at least for three-quarters of the show — seemed so easy, with just a pattern of lynx on a princess coat or a tiger print on a black-and-white dress.

“They just came out of the shower and put on the clothes. That’s the look I wanted,” said the designer, referring to models with streams of long, loose hair and fresh faces who wore simple, undecorated clothes focused on cut, and often in black and white.

Only the sculpted brass jewelry at the neck and waist, by the Roman jeweler Luigi Scialanga, challenged the negative/positive code — until the fabrics blushed pink or even yellow. The final quarter of the show then gave in to elaborate embellishment, yet there was still a lightness to the work.

Because Mr. Valli is a rare couturier who has a young clientele whom he knows, the outfits all seemed to have their place in a modern social calendar, from Brazil to Gstaad, London or New York. Some of the most lavish dresses will no doubt be adapted for wedding gowns. But it is Mr. Valli’s skill to make his collection — even shown in the grandeur of the Italian embassy — seem as intimate as a sweet young thing emerging from the shower.

The whimsical but sensitive spirit of the Alexis Mabille show may have reflected the designer’s acceptance onto the couture federation’s official roster. Shown in a town hall, the designer dressed it with the look of a Ladurée-macaron lounge: all sugar pink from carpet to stylized, sculpted flowers.

But the collection — even if it started pink and frilly, with a chiffon top and narrow pants — had a lot of sense in its girlie sensibility. Evening dresses, both short and long, came slender or full, giving customer choice. And the colors moving from pale pink through strawberry to red fruits were sugary but desirable — just like those macarons.

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