Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I want candy...

You know the old saying; sugar, spice and everything nice...

Well imagine if the little girl in question decided that she needed a bit of an edge. What you'd probably wind up with is Karl Lagerfeld's Spring 2010 Haute Couture collection for Chanel. In a show he titled "Neon-Baroque", he sent out a parade of clothes in the kinds of colors that would make most little girls swoon. Gone was the graphic black and white-based palette that usually dominates a Chanel couture offering, and in it's place were perky pastels as far as the eye could see.

Opening with the requisite Chanel tweed, Karl's update on the age-old classic this season was to trade in a traditional narrow skirt for culottes. Now, I'm all for doing whatever it takes to make pastel tweed seem a little less octogenarian, but culottes? Really?? Needless to say, not the Kaiser's best twist on the house's signature look. The semi-opaque lurex tights, chunky silver booties and fingerless gloves didn't exactly help. But some of the jackets had this amazing detail around the edges or next to seams, tiny little blotches of molten silver. Trimming the edges of the collar or the front of the jacket they were a modern alternative to the classic braiding. Around the shoulder seam they almost looked like metal stitches or medical staples holding the sleeve up. There were also a few straight-cut shifts with neat little stand up collars and glass/lucite tubes assembled into brooches at the neck before the collection moved soundly into "dress" territory. I've mentally blocked the fussy, lacey little numbers and the heavily beaded dresses with caped sleeves and landed right at look #31; a white pleated shirt dress with a soft pink tint at the hem. I wish I knew why that look caught my eye, maybe it's the relative simplicity compared to everything that came before it, but I find myself drawn to it. After that it was full on, pastry light confections that could put the Ladurée-designed food in Sophia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" to shame. If you've seen the movie, you know exactly what I mean. A short tiered dress came in Mille-feuille layers of delicately shaded pink organza. A coat reminiscent of topiary came covered in swirling mauve ruffles from the shoulder down. An empire line bubble dress and corresponding Balenciaga-esque cape were made out of tiny flat rosettes. And there were numerous softly draped options in icy shades of satin with ornate beadwork at the neckline.

But none of that compared to the evening dresses. In every conceivable shade of pale pink, with bits of yellow, coral, lavender and gray mixed in for good measure, the sweetness of these fluid columns of liquid satin was cut by the baroque silver embroidery. Most of the dresses featured one knockout embroidered detail. Take the coral one for example; under the sari like drape the bodice was covered with metallic silver sequins embroidered into swirls that had an almost armor-like look. The yellow one had a kind of breast-plate embroidered onto the top, covered with 3-D camelias in silver paillettes. Another one in pale pink had a pleated faux-wrap top with billowing kimono sleeves, and the skirt had horizontal metallic bands worked into it. But my personal favorite? The pristine white floor length shirt dress with pleated shoulders, starched collar and over-sized black necktie. It was so simple, with no embroidery or beading at all, only a brooch on the tie. And it was humorous too, with the not-so-subtle reference to Karl himself, but it was also just plain beautiful. After the gowns the rest of the evening pieces were mainly short, voluminous, and so light and frothy with layers of tulle and fragile ruffles that they looked like meringues. Honestly though they were just too pretty, too delicate, too sweet for my taste.

I'm truly shocked that I like this collection at all, let alone that I like it quite a bit. There's just so much in it that I normally turn up my nose at. I think it might be the sheer overload of all those things, the pretty colors, the softness, the sugary girlishness, that ultimately makes it appealing. I mean really the whole thing is so obnoxiously feminine. It's taken to such an extreme that it's almost aggressive, which of course makes it interesting. Then there is the balance from the space-agey elements, the silver, the heavy beadwork, that makes these clothes different than your run of the mill frou-frou. And for the first time in as long as I can remember Karl didn't completely overload on details. Even though the collection is called baroque, a lot of it (barring the passage that I've blocked from memory) is actually pretty spare by Chanel HC standards. All of those evening dresses, for example, have their embellishment contained to one area; the neckline, the shoulder, the hip, what have you. Most of the suits are only trimmed with those tiny silver dots, instead of the usual textural overload. Even the accessories, which any Chanel show is overloaded with, were kept to a minimum, just those Barbarella booties, tights, gloves and occasional bit of jewelry. So as much as Karl went full tilt with the prettiness, he actually managed to rein in the details and, for the most part, control them. I really never thought I'd see the day that I'd root for pastel satin, but I guess stranger things have happened, no?

images from Catwalking.com via Festat at tFS

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