From the dizzy heights of whimsy, perched atop a black and white column on a replica Place Vendôme, a monochrome Coco Chanel decidedly wasn’t welcoming her guests at the Haute Couture runway show in the Grand Palais, Paris. Stonily surveying the evening-time hustle and bustle of summer 2011, the fashion world, and indeed the century, the arrogance of Coco’s stance is irreverently turned on its head as we lift our gaze and see right up her skirt. The ‘behind-the-scenes’ of fashion, we presume. Karl Lagerfeld ever fondly amuses himself with the muse. His Haute Couture collection spectacularly sweeps us through the silhouettes, fetishes and emblems that inform the Chanel aesthetic, from 1880 to 2011.

Staying for the moment in 2011, androgynous touches peek out from behind ultra-feminine constraints, luxury resists ostentation, and sheer elegance is infiltrated with unmistakably edgy cool. A boat-neck fuchsia evening gown is accessorized with embroidered black voile fingerless gloves. And the rocker overtones are stepped up a notch with a biker-esque zip running the length of a quilted evening skirt suit, unapologetic alongside sequin and embroidery detail. Feather, voile and lace fringing gives sass and spirit to black and white swans of the evening.
Lagerfeld offers a fresh spin on Godet skirts, sumptuous accented basque jackets, Peter Pan collars, collarless suits and straight-cut suits, with a sexily-slashed shoulder here, a glittering optical illusion of rhinestone buttons there, or perhaps a classic Karl high-necked collar to show off the ladylike posture of a head held high. Two-toned boots are transparent or fully embroidered by Massaro, exuding youth and movement.

Looking back to 1880, the boater hat is the sassy accessory of choice. It crops up throughout the collection, adorned with feathers, tulle or ribbon, embroidered, scattered with camellias, covered in tweed, serving every turn, and punctuating the collection like an exclamation mark. The boater hat is forever tied to Coco Chanel who, loving its simplicity, borrowed it from the garb of rowers and bicycling aficionados in the early 20th century, and promptly made it her own. The starry night in the Grand Palais conjures Renoir’s 1881 painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party”, which depicts a scene at the Maison Fournaise in Chatou, France. To the strains of a boating refrain: “In their jerseys and straw hats, the rowers are more charming than any of these young dandies!” (from Alain Chartier’s 1859 painting “Canotage, Glouglou, Stella et Mignonne”).
This dazzling collection gaily skips back and forth through the decades to offer a young, ever elegant silhouette… with sass.

Watch the full show online on


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