Chanel Cruise: Captain Karl is Inspired by the Sea

With its fluffy pink berets, patterned dresses whipped up like blue waves and white foam, and narrow trousers ending in silver strappy shoes, Chanel’s Cruise collection was fresh and romantic – especially if you hanker after a vacation on an ocean liner in its glam and glory heyday.

Karl Lagerfeld sailed through the show in the Grand Palais in Paris, the vast space paying homage to Coco Chanel’s South of France home, La Pausa. The ocean liner’s mighty hulk had a chimney belching fake smoke up to the glass domed roof, while inside, the party guests filled the decks, lounging at the piano bar or climbing up to observation areas under a star-spangled sky.

Yet for all the lighthearted fun, a romantic nostalgia touched everything – from the fresh, innocent clothes to the cry of cormorants and that deep wail of ship horns.

The nautical clothes were some of the prettiest the designer has recently offered, from thigh-high coat-dresses to casual T-shirts and jeans. They were all, of course, produced with the skills of the Chanel studios, which can make a weave look like denim and shape a straw sun hat in undulating waves.

A plenitude of accessories included classic, dangling shoulder bags and others fashioned like lifebuoys.

Karl even played the role of bearded shipmaster, waving from the deck alongside Chanel Fashion Studio Director Virginie Viard and models in sea blue spilling over the steps.

There was a touching sense of the past – a rare move for the look-ahead designer. Was this an extension of his return to the Hamburg of his childhood for the December 2017 Métiers d’Arts collection?

“With boats there is always a feeling of loss and departure,” Karl said. “But I like the idea of ocean liners. When I was a child, I found in the attic all the old menus from ships my parent’s family sailed on. I love this idea, but I don’t like the big cruise ships of today. They are horrible. I wanted to find a real cruise ship and take a tour from St Tropez, but there was nothing free before the end of 2019! So I built the boat – and in fact I prefer what we are doing. It’s much more romantic, don’t you think?”

I have never thought of Karl Lagerfeld as a romantic designer. But this collection had a sweetness about it, as well as demonstrating the extraordinary skills of Chanel, which have produced a fabric inspired by the Vorticists – a whirling mass of airy material for a series of dresses, or sporty separates in shades of rippling blue. Add to that scarves waving as if in the wind, and moon-on-water silvered decorations at either side of a bared midriff. Throughout the collection, Karl also played with delicacy on feather-light embellishment.

“The waves of the sea and the waves of love – Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen – we learned that in school,” Karl explained, referring to an 1831 play by the Viennese writer Franz Grillparzer.

Rarely have I felt the German roots in Karl’s work, except perhaps in his photography, so often telling a detailed, wistful story. And I could not pull out particular pieces in this Cruise collection that linked back to his country of birth. In many ways, this collection seemed rather archetypal Parisian Chanel, with the traditional tweed coat turned into a tailored, sugar-pink mini-dress. Or a faux-tweed stitched into a mid-calf dress, but given a fillip of modernity with the exposed midriff.

I questioned Karl again about Hamburg, remembering the berets in that December collection, although they had a more military feel. Asking about his first memory of boats, he recalled, “My first souvenir is not even a boat – it’s the noise of boats, because we lived on the border of the river and you could hear the boat’s horns when they went to sea or when they were coming in.”

“It’s the first noise I remember that I loved. It was too humid there, so we went to another place and had a country house. When you went to the top terrace the view looked as if the water disappeared. I can close my eyes and see everything, every room.”

However much this Cruise collection struck a deep chord with Karl’s memories, in many ways it was classic Chanel, with a row of jaunty young celebrities including Lily-Rose Depp and actresses Kristen Stewart and Margot Robbie – the I, Tonya producer and new face of Chanel.

Add model sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid, whose figures of gentle curves and tiny waists were picture-perfect for the slithers of bared flesh. They later sat on a celebrity deck that ran the length of the boat, which was steady on terra firma.

“I like boats as objects, but I hate being on them – I prefer firm ground,” Karl said, before revealing he was already working on July’s Chanel Couture collection.

Any other news? Two more collections, which he calls “Coco Snow” and “Coco Beach”, to bring the total to 10 Chanel collections every year.

“I cannot say they forced me, because it was my idea to do it,” Karl said. “Sometimes I surprise myself.”

Suzy’s in-depth, exclusive interview with Karl Lagerfeld is in the June issue of Vogue UK, on newsstands on the 11th of May