“There was an ending and a beginning on the March 5th 2019. Amidst ice-capped mountains, carved wooden ski chalets and the snowy drifts that enveloped the Grand Palais, the final CHANEL fashion show by Karl Lagerfeld took place.
It was a Lagerfeld ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a universal artwork, the kind we have come to expect from him over the years. Here, fashion is not just a collection of clothes for the coming season, but a moment in time, an event, and an expression of a feeling for the future.
Karl Lagerfeld lived for the future; he was not one to dwell in the past. Instead, his antenna was attuned to what was to come from the beginning of his time at CHANEL. As a student of history, one with an immense knowledge of eras, people and places, Mr Lagerfeld understood its sweep all too well. He also understood his place within it – alongside Mademoiselle Chanel, Mr Lagerfeld would not stand idly by, he was there to shape it. And shape it he did.
As his voice rang out at the show, explaining how the naysayers had urged him not to take the reins of what was once considered a sleepy house, almost lost to time, he knew better. Instead he remade Chanel, and in turn, remade the entire fashion industry – not dissimilar to Mademoiselle herself.
For anybody involved in fashion today, we move to the beat of Karl’s drum. If the pace is challenging, that’s because it was Karl’s pace – a man with a capacity and joy for work like no other. If it is spectacular, that’s the spectacle that Karl decreed fashion to be. If it has a global reach and an impact on the culture well beyond ‘shopping’, that is what Karl wanted for fashion. He achieved all of this through CHANEL. And yet never lost the humanity at its heart, or his own humanity either.
The Fall-Winter 2019/20 show was a testament to this. The sweep of silhouettes, a combination of feminine and masculine to be found at the House, never forgetting the equality that CHANEL is based on and a principle Karl wholeheartedly believed in. The spirit of the French ‘tailleur’ and ‘flou’, the fashion culture Karl embraced when he arrived in France, encouraged by his mother to leave Germany and change the world.
There was a reason many of the models were moved during the finale, models like Mariacarla Boscono who knew Karl as a teenager, and like many who were taken under his wing, encouraged to be themselves. As the music of Phillip Glass played, arranged by Michel Gaubert – another given his break and encouraged by Karl – the feeling of overwhelming beauty, joy and sadness built. Glass’ ‘Heroes Symphony’ was echoed at the end by David Bowie’s Heroes, as Michel Gaubert described it: ‘As the song says, we can be heroes for just one day, but Karl, Karl was a hero for 85 years.’
The standing ovation that brought the proceedings to a close was spontaneous and beautiful, heartfelt and tearful – more than any I have experienced before. It was also an ovation for the Lagerfeld Epoch, one that is passing as much as its master.
And so, the beat goes on.
Something ended while something else began on March 5th. As well as understanding the sweep of history, Karl Lagerfeld liked to look forward. This was Virginie Viard’s show as much as Karl Lagerfeld’s; she carries on a rhythm but plays her own melody. We all look forward to how she will interpret the music of CHANEL.”