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Chanel Couture AW13

Amidst crumbling walls, Karl Lagerfeld shows his couture on the borders of old and new

As we entered the Grand Palais to witness Chanel’s beautifully dilapidated theatre, complete with crumbling walls, rubble on the ground and broken fold-down chairs, we could sense that this was still a theatre of dreams. Some in the audience attempted to break away a chunk of the crumbling “walls” (made out of painted polystyrene) as a memento. And we were proven right. The curtains' rise revealed a backdrop of a gleaming futuristic city: part-Dubai, part-Star Trek. The old world meets the new and the two can also clash to great effect. Chanel’s subsidiary company, Paraffection group, which have gradually acquired the famed ateliers of Lemarié and Lesage with the latest addition being custom-pleating workshop Gérard Lognon, were all put to great use to demonstrate the highly skilled expertise of the “old” – as in age-old, time-honoured traditions of haute couture. The “new” came from Karl Lagerfeld himself, who sought to construct innovative fabrics of the highest order, as he pushed the Chanel atelier and associated craftsmen to go forth and find their own tangible and tactile super future.

As the models circled around the theatre and the aisles between the stalls, their ensembles would catch sunlight cast through the ceiling of the Grand Palais so that whether it was glittered, mirrored or coated, the clothes literally shone and changed appearance in a split second turn. Tweeds were not woven but embroidered and shot with metallic threads. The atelier of Longnon’s pleating prowess was put to great use as we saw dresses of organza made up into various origami geometric formations, which evoked glass pane patterns of skyscrapers in a modern metropolis. Mirrored tiles like an inky lit-up disco floor glinted back from dresses and skirts. Sometimes they adorned a mini-skirt, which would be layered over longer lengths – a recurring silhouette throughout the collection. Period features were prevalent but only as a faint counterpart to the mind-bending fabrics. Even the boater hat was given a new twist with an unexpected rectangular edge at the top brim. It was powerful to see how something that on a surface level was often not of this time, nor of this world, felt so utterly convincing. Wide dropped waisted belts worked into almost every single silhouette and the low-heeled boots brought things down to earth somewhat but, largely speaking, Lagerfeld relished taking us on a journey into the unknown – a place where the hallowed sanctity of haute couture could do with going to once in a while.