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Chanel chugs into the future with a look back at Karl Lagerfeld

For its first resort show since the death of Karl Lagerfeld, its longtime designer, the house reimagined a lavish Parisian railway station.

Chanel chugs into the future with a look back at Karl Lagerfeld

Virginie Viard's first solo collection after over 30 years in fashion. (Photo: Chanel)

Chanel is moving forward. Or at least trying to. How else to view the fact that for the first Chanel resort show since the death in February of Karl Lagerfeld, its longtime designer, the house had reimagined a Parisian railway station?

“You have to move, to travel, to surprise,” Lagerfeld once said. “Traveling informs youth, and what’s so fun is the energy.” So said a man who built an airport terminal, a cruise ship and even a rocket launchpad as sets for his Chanel runway shows, the better to transport guests from one fantastical destination to the next.

The Belle Epoque Chanel station set. (Photo: Chanel)

And so with a strict departure time of 9am on Friday (May 3), guests arrived to find that a string of lavish custom-built dining cars had pulled into the upper salons of the Grand Palais, Lagerfeld’s long-favored show site, transformed for the moment into a beaux-arts terminal, complete with platforms and an elegant cafe.

It should be noted here that fashion has always loved a train, including the Diorient Express that opened John Galliano’s fall couture show for Christian Dior at Gare d’Austerlitz in 1998 and Marc Jacobs’ Louis Vuitton Express that chugged its way into Paris Fashion Week in 2012.

For the Chanel 2006 cruise show in New York, Lagerfeld took over a restaurant in Grand Central Terminal. But 13 years later, back on home turf and under the artistic direction of Virginie Viard, Lagerfeld’s former right hand, Chanel decided to up the spectacle ante to mark the start of its next chapter.

First, editors, buyers and clients took their seats at white-clothed tables, feasting on the scene of golden age glamour (as well as hearty silver-service breakfasts of summer berries, croissants, scrambled eggs and orange juice). 

Next, their journey took them down ornately arched iron staircases scattered with palm trees to a vast concrete concourse, where they were directed by station porters in navy caps to the life-size platforms that ran alongside railroad tracks. Each bore slatted benches and a station sign for a sunny destination in an exotic clime: Venice, Rome, Istanbul and Saint-Tropez.

The future of Chanel looks bright. (Photo: Chanel)

Then, with a loud strike of the station clock and a sharp blow of the station master’s whistle, a procession of 80 models steamed onto the runway, unveiling a collection that crossed multiple historical and geographical boundaries, with one common value: Comfort. See, for example, waxed jackets with pockets and flared pants inspired by vintage workmen’s uniforms, and hooded trench coats paired with white Victoriana blouses or bows.

A new interpretation of Chanel's iconic tweed. (Photo: Chanel)

There were plenty of signature Chanel tweeds on display, atop chiffon vests embroidered with flowers or sequin bustiers (and occasionally some rather dubious flared leather shorts). To close, there was a series of breezy evening sheath dresses in graphic pastel prints or delicate lace.

Modern evening be like this. (Photo: Chanel)

It was a pretty show, with some new lightness, though predominantly a loyal continuation of legacy. When Viard appeared to take her bow, her eyes were filled with tears. Sometimes, even when one is determined to look to the future, it can be hard to resist a fleeting glance back.

(Text by Elizabeth Paton c.2019 New York Times)

READ: Who is Virginie Viard, the woman replacing Karl Lagerfeld as head of Chanel? 

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