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Chanel Covers the Boys, and the Girls

PARIS, March 4, 2005 - By the time the Chanel show had ended on Friday morning, a curious thing had happened. The boy models were happily mixing with the girls beneath the chrome arches that framed the catwalk, the entire pack of them surrounding a sparkling Karl Lagerfeld. And the scene looked so natural, you would have thought it was a party for the young fashion-conscious set.

The progressive collection that had just passed down the runway offered somewhat of a watershed moment for the House of Chanel. In the past, Karl has dabbled in men's pieces, with mixed results. But this time around, the line was expanded by ten outfits, and it fit squarely into the previously female-only domain - which just goes to prove how close the codes that once separated the two sexes have now merged. There was a powerful message in it all that reaches right to the heart of a younger generation.

Earlier, while fighting off paparazzi swarming like hungry flies, Karl spoke volumes. "Chanel used men's fashion as an inspiration for her collections, and so why not? Boys and girls both have two arms and two legs."  He was standing there in a new evening jacket by Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme, his hands covered with silver sparkly gloves (fingertips sheered off).

The show began with an exploration of the rejuvenated Chanel suit, worn with short pleated skirts atop thigh-high black or white leather boots crinkled at the ankles. And keeping with the updated look, models wore knit caps pulled down over their ears, and one sported a luscious scarf dripping in pink crystal. There were lots of elegant touches  - black satin bows tied around the knees or wrapped like armbands around the sleeves, and for evening, droplets of shimmering embroidery splashed about. But it was in a frost-colored dress spinning weightlessly down the catwalk that the autograph of France's premier couturier stood out.

For the boys, the look was equally understated, and equally convincing. A sleek smoking tuxedo was ingeniously cut so that a satin lapel became a streamer floating down the back. A classic tweed redingote was pinned with a camellia brooch, and a pearl necklace peeked out from beneath the layers of a sleeveless quilted vest. The men's high collar shirts looked reminiscent of the Hilditch and Key variety Karl himself wears, while the short waistcoats doubtlessly were inspired by his protégé, Hedi Slimane. Program notes listed the men's pieces as a "Men's Version" of Chanel, and that is exactly what they were - the same ideas cut into different proportions, with essentially the same linear silhouette. If there was a blemish to be found, it was in the use of maxi and micro purses as men's accessories. That look, well - see the pictures.

After the show, Kal Ruttenstein, Senior Vice President of Bloomingdales, was sizing it all up. "We haven't carried the men's line yet," he mused. "But that is certainly under discussion, and this looks like it would work."

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