haute couture spring summer 07

Making and Remaking the House of Chanel
By Timothy Hagy, Paris Editor | Photographed by Yannis Vlamos

January 23, 2007 - Karl Lagerfeld is Fashion's eternal optimist. Through good times and bad he has led the House of Chanel, and most particularly its couture division, with a steady hand and with the help of an atelier staff of wizardly petits mains who transform his sketches into reality. If haute couture has been on life support for at least a decade, you wouldn't know it judging from the long line of Chanel couture clients.

Beneath the glass ceiling of the Grand Palais, the Chanel collection was sent down a long gray carpet accompanied by the music of American folk singer Cat Power backed up by orchestra. You needn't look far to find all the markings of youth—featherweight evening dresses, super short skirts, opaque black leggings used to contrast a thin, fine silhouette. Lagerfeld called it "vertical fluidity". Whatever the concept, the power of the pieces was in the understated elegance—a gray dress seemingly confected of vertical straps, a silver piece dripping in sterling fringe, plumes cascading here and there. It all worked.

The challenge is to make each season at Chanel stand out as something new, this despite obligatory adherence to the strict codes laid down by Mademoiselle. (In the old days, if you showed up for work on Rue Cambon dressed in red, you'd be sent home to change before Coco got back from lunch with Salvador Dali).

Enter Lagerfeld. Karl says he's never as happy as when he's living out of suitcase, devoid of his collections of art and furniture, all the personal effects that have accumulated over the course of his long career. And perhaps that's the real message of his work for Chanel - a season lasts six months, and then it's on to new ideas. Making and remaking.

A stellar guest list on Tuesday morning gave the Paris season some much-needed wattage. Sigourney Weaver, Sofia Coppola, Diane Kruger, Mariane Faithfull, Sean Lennon, Marc Lavoine and Vanessa Paradis sat along side Bernadette Chirac and Claude Pompidou.


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