Thursday, May 14, 2009

Life's a beach...

For the last few years Karl Lagerfeld has made it a tradition to ditch Paris and take his pre-season collections for Chanel around the world. The collections have shown up at Grand Central Terminal in New York, an airplane hanger in L.A., a theater in Monte Carlo, The Raleigh Hotel in Miami, and somewhere in London (can't remember the venue, it wasn't anything amazing though). This year's destination for the 2010 Cruise collection was Venice, and the inspiration, at least in part, was one of the cities most well known residents; Peggy Guggenheim. This being a Chanel collection though, Coco's spirit was definitely not far. So what do you get when you combine the artsy/bohemian chic style of Guggenheim (with more than a dash of the Marchesa Casati thrown in for good measure, if you ask me) with Coco's signature understatement and easy femininity, a bit of Visconti's "Death in Venice", and more than a hint of the city itself? Well for starters you get a great location. Shown on the Lido beach at dusk with wind blowing off the sea, the set was already worlds better than some of the borderline kitschy locales and sets Lagerfeld has chosen before (that airport show was just plain cheesy. It's jet set, we get it..) and I imagine it was pretty picturesque as well for the lucky bastards who were there. Now don't get me wrong, I would've LOVED to have seen models maneuvering from one teetering gondola to the next on the grand canal, or vying with the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco for space on the runway, but I'm a realist. I know that salt water and bird droppings just don't mix with expensive handmade clothing. Still, it would've been nice to be able to look at the pictures and see "Venice", ya know? But I'm just splitting hairs, cause from the pictures at least the location looks gorgeous. When I initially heard that Venice was to be the destination, I was a little worried. Given Karl's penchant for cutesy gimmicks that can sometimes drown an otherwise chic outfit (like the plastic "Barbie Doll" purses from Fall, or the mini 2.55 bags that looked like alcohol monitoring anklets back in '08 for example) I was dreading what seemed like the inevitable parade of straw boater hats tricked out with Double-C's and striped gondolier's sweaters thrown in with Carnival masks, or something equally touristy. I can thank the fashion gods that Karl thought better of this, and that where he did use nautical stripes, he managed to make them look grown up and chic. The first looks out were probably some of the most theatrical and "costumey" looks I've ever seen from him; black swimsuits worn with billowing black capes, tricorne hats and sunglasses perched on a rod to look like those masks worn at a masquerade. Even though they were no doubt inspired by the Venetian carnival celebration, there was something very "Eyes Wide Shut" about the looks, and having the slightly perverse sensibility that I do, I quite liked the Kubrick vibe. From there Karl went right into the Visconti allusions, sending out sailor-inspired tailoring, dresses and knitwear, but even though the first looks out were a kind of homage to the characters in Visconti's film, the clothes basically fit in with the whole early-20th Century life of leisure/jet setting thing that Coco herself embodied. Really the only thing exciting about the looks was the hair and makeup. Every model was outfitted with curly, fluffy little bobs (some better looking than others) and smokey eyes. Now here's where the whole Marchesa Casati thing comes into play for me. About 1/3 of the wigs were red, and paired with the dark eye makeup, the models wearing them really did seem to have been styled to look like her. It wouldn't exactly be random if Karl worked a bit of La Casati into the collection. She did spend a good portion of her life living in Venice, in the very same palazzo that Peggy Guggenheim would purchase after the Marchesa lost her fortune and was forced to sell it, which would then become the Peggy Guggenheim collection. But wait, there's more! According to something I once read (don't actually remember where I read it, just that I did), when the Marchesa's belongings were auctioned off, Coco Chanel herself was one of the bidders. So there you have it. No matter what, everything goes back to her. Karl knows his Coco lore, and for the first time it seems, I do too.

Anyway, from the sporty and nautical inspired opening looks, Karl moved into more decadent, and what I imagine could be called "Venetian" territory. Chiffon dresses were printed with baroque scrollwork over the signature double-C logo. Mini dress and cardigan combos came covered with gilt embroidery or vaguely mosaic patterns. A stunning printed column with a Fortuny-esque kind of vibe came with embroidery around the collar and under the bust, and was cut to leave the sides completely exposed. And dropped waist chemise dresses came accessorized with gorgeous necklaces and bracelets that popped up throughout the show. This being a Chanel collection, there was, of course, a number of tweed suits. Some of them had the jackets worn open over a bra and girdle type thing peeking out from the high waisted skirt, and I have to admit, it was kind of refreshing. For some reason I tend to find the tweed suits, arguably Chanel's most well known look, kind of stuffy a lot of the time. It's just something about tweed itself, I suppose. But like I said, it was refreshing to see them worn with a sort of, I hesitate to say vulgar attitude, but it sure as hell didn't look stuffy. For me though this Chanel outing was all about the dresses. Each one of them just really easy and beautiful. There was a gorgeous Venetian red off-the-shoulder column with sheer sleeves, a strapless draped black satin number worn with an incredible drop necklace that hung all the way down to the waist, a short red lace number with buttons up the front and billowing split sleeves, and an ecru column with metallic beadwork forming a Y down the front. All of them had that sort of slinky glamour of the late-teens and 20s.

I think that's why I liked a lot of the collection. I find that Karl does some of his best work when he channels that sort of flapper side of Chanel. I don't know what it is exactly, maybe it's the ease and simplicity of the fashions that defined the era, as well as the fact that Coco herself helped to champion those ideals. Maybe it's that there's less room to go all out with the baroque embroidery and heavy detailing that Karl loves to indulge in. Thinking back, most of the Chanel collections that I've really liked over the years have had a bit of a 20s flavor to them, even if it wasn't overt. In a way I think the paired down presentation helped the collection as well. Not that renting out the stretch of beach, flying in models, crew and clothing, and making sure all of the guests were able to get there as well is what anyone would call understated. But there was something really pure about having the models walk a straight line up and down a runway, or boardwalk serving as a runway, with nothing but a natural backdrop and lighting to set the scene. I've grown a little tired (okay a LOT tired) of these monumental Chanel presentations lately with the huge sets and all of the "Chanelisms" crammed into each outfit. Something like this, more intimate, more special, and more restrained, just seems really appealing. I guess the whole thing, clothes, location, styling, show, all just clicked for me. Needless to say, I haven't liked a Chanel collection this much in a
long time, and it's nice to know that Karl can still have that effect on me.

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