The scent of jasmine escapes from the Galerie Courbe of the Grand Palais; unusual for Paris in the month of December. Industrial metal rafters heave under the strain of immense crystal chandeliers. Aging brick walls are covered in pale grey marble fashioned into the façade of a Mughal palace. A dream-like fantasy. Baskets laden with mangoes, roses and pistachio nuts bask in the golden glow of candlelight. A silver toy train chugs steadily along yard after yard of electric track mounted on a princely banquet table of such lavish proportions never seen west of Jaisalmer.

Smoke billows out of a Chanel-double-C-branded chimney. This charming Dar(jee)ling Express is an allegory of the presentation: traveling without moving, beyond the constraints of time, to an imaginary India recreated in the Maharajas’ palace of the Grand Palais by Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel to honor the Métiers d’Art so prized by the House. It is a perfectly obvious match: India is made for Chanel. Coco Chanel herself designed a number of pieces inspired by Indian dress in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Materials drip with opulence: silk brocade, gold and silver lamé, crepe, duchess satin, pearls, embroidery, hand-painted Mughal floral motifs, and cascading pearls.
Androgynous traditional dress takes a lighthearted, eminently graceful leap: fitted white jodhpurs under a white tweed jacket; sinuous “salwar” pajama pants worn beneath flowing “kameez” tunics studded with rhinestones or emblazoned with golden sheaves of wheat against a black background; saris and harem pants paired with exquisite salwars or soft white zipped leather thigh boots stamped with motifs, in rhinestone-studded pomegranate velvet. Typically sensuous draping flows freely in a rustle of harem skirts, the signature piece of this collection. We love the rhinestone-sprinkled military frock coat, the various interpretations of the “achkan”, and the brocade coat with classic Nehru collar, glinting with mirror-embroidered pockets or studded with baroque pearls.

We are yearning after the biker-inspired military jacket embroidered with a dazzle of gold glitter and worn over a white paneled flared skirt embroidered with gold braiding, fit for a whirling dervish. We swoon at the sight of the diamante-shouldered jacket crackling with the deafeningly Indian heat of “rani” pink, sumptuously tamed by a tailored tweed jacket worn over gold lamé harem pants and a perfectly-proportioned black-and-pink tailored suit. And we are swept away in the fantasy of a white evening dress and its endlessly expressive “dupatta” scarf. The Fugitive, as the poet Rabindranath Tagore would describe it.

An array of virginal flat sandals makes for a free-flowing, youthful look, set off by neo-rock mojari-inspired pumps and gold-sequined flat ankle boots that hark back to the days of Swinging London. Jeweled leather and silver-chained fingerless gloves and disheveled rasta dreadlocks give a luxuriant hippie twist to the 1970s Goa vibe of Michel Gaubert’s psychedelic soundtrack.

This enchanting Métiers d’Art collection, a salute to master craftsmanship, ultimately glorifies an imaginary India. Yet its heroine’s ultra-modern look, both androgynous and feminine, is distilled from Indian spiritual heritage: Shiva and Shakti, male and female forces united and reconciled. The Chanel woman has found her dharma.

Photo © Olivier Saillant