#SuzyCouture: Chanel – Split Personality

A Parisian street in the heat and dust of summer… As a backdrop, there was a silhouette of the Académie Française, within shouting distance of Karl Lagerfeld’s own French home.

To make the Chanel set still more personal, in the forefront were the designer’s two godsons, Hudson and Jameson Koenig, guarding those artistic objects on sale along the Seine. Clue for this Left Bank idyll: the kiosks were filled to the brim with books and images of Coco Chanel.

“High Profile,” Karl declared as the name of the couture show that rather seemed the opposite of a relatively quiet collection. There were ultra-subtle colours of rippling water touched with silver; classic day clothes, with just a slit in the skirt or the sleeve for some body heat; and definitely an Autumn/Winter Haute Couture collection designed for clients so numerous, that Karl says they now have five ateliers of hand-workers dedicated to creating their wardrobes.

Apart from those leg-revealing slits, with the weird effect of attached shorts, the overall look was quietly elegant and very French. But what exactly was the message of these intensely-worked materials shaped gracefully to the body? That Karl wanted to make this Chanel Haute Couture show more Parisian than ever? That the designer, who has taken the brand to so many destinations, now thinks there is no place like home?

Or was this a rare moment when Karl was fumbling with his plot? Why did just about every beautiful but predictable outfit have the slit side to reveal a single, long leg with shorts for decency at the top? Although it turned out that they were not shorts, but joined at the hip as part of each garment. Those were either the familiar tweed suits – light-handed this season with their focus on shoulders and slim waists – or, by contrast, the delicate evening outfits in rich but subtle shades.

Why the complications? Why not have a classic Chanel show of these beautiful clothes, from daytime tailoring to airy evening dresses, without what looked like a gimmick? Dior took the route earlier this week of plain-but-beautiful, making a couture show of clothes that were hidden gems. My reaction was that it was elegant and respectful to women, but visually dull.

Karl is too smart not to realise that in today’s Instagram world, the image is king. And so, in couture, is the detailed creation.

I had the opportunity to see some of the piece in the studio and, as ever, the workmanship was superb and the fabric creations as mysteriously beautiful as moonlight shimmering on the Seine at night. Karl showed me a tailored outfit that opened to a flower pattern inside, and a black chiffon top and skirt with soft silver glitter underneath.

“Couture has to be in Paris, where the colours are so beautiful and reflective,” Karl said. “This is my love affair with Paris.”

And there is the conundrum of couture. The real stuff, that discreet and dedicated clients order, is rich in its subtlety. Karl’s love affair with books is widely known and the kiosks were a charming contribution. The split skirts and bared legs? I would like to see the Chanel client orders and find out how many Chanel lovers request the outfits with legs and arms fully covered.