Photo by Anne Combaz
Photo by Anne Combaz
Gabrielle Chanel started out in 1909, selling hats that she would customize and parade. She opened her first boutique in Deauville in 1913, going on to open her couture house in Biarritz in 1915. Three years later she settled on rue Cambon, where she built upon her now-famous jersey ensembles by incorporating new silhouettes. As her reputation thrived and grew, so too did the prestige of the rue Cambon address, which remained exclusively dedicated to Haute Couture during the designer’s life. Now under the direction of Karl Lagerfeld, the house of Chanel starts over each season, each time unveiling a new collection unlike any before.
Beyond the architecture of the clothes themselves, the materials and workmanship produced by the house’s ateliers and the artisan workshops of the Métiers d’Art – as conducted by Karl Lagerfeld – is unparalleled. Haute Couture, the expression of ancient know-how and precision down to the most minute of details, is a constantly evolving playing field of innovation. Working in harmony with the ateliers and Métiers d’Art, Karl Lagerfeld breaks codes, experiments with processes and invents what has never before existed. Traditional materials rub shoulders with PVC, Lurex, plastic-coated lace and neoprene, giving a radical new volume to dresses. Offset by beading, embroidery, crystals and sequins, in the hands of Karl Lagerfeld, even cement turns to cloth.
A suit requires over 200 hours of work and a dress between 300 and 600, while other designs – such as the house’s bridal dresses – can take over 1,000 hours to produce. The starting point is always a Karl Lagerfeld sketch. First produced in muslin, each design is then presented to the designer on a mannequin. Next comes the selection of fabrics and tailoring techniques. (The house’s two tailoring ateliers boast 50 “petite mains” dedicated mainly to tweeds, woolens and leather, and another 50 working on tulle, organza, muslin, crêpe, lace and other delicate fabrics, spread across two “flou” (soft dressmaking) departments.) The finishing touch – overseen by Karl Lagerfeld during the final run-through the day before a show – comes in accessorizing the collection’s 70-odd looks with jewelry, gloves, hats and shoes.
Following a show, the house’s clients are invited to rue Cambon to attend a private presentation of the creations, which will duly be adjusted according to their preferences and fits. For its most loyal clients, the house will even cast models with the same measurements, with a première d'atelier also on hand for every stage of the fittings. The experience is as exclusive as the house’s silhouettes, which continue to attract an increasingly loyal following of next-generation clients.
Balancing fashion and technology while both honoring and reinterpreting Chanel’s legacy, Karl Lagerfeld continues to breathe new life into Haute Couture with audacity, creativity and modernity, constantly courting the unexpected, in the definition of contemporary elegance.