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CHANEL AW16 COUTURE
Chanel haute couture AW16via @chanelofficial on Instagram

Karl Lagerfeld puts seamstresses on the runway at Chanel

Lagerfeld recreated the house’s ateliers as the backdrop for today’s celebration of couture craftsmanship

There are few houses more synonymous with haute couture than Chanel. The French luxury behemoth has its own subsidiary, Paraffection, dedicated to the purchase of various artisanal companies; it puts these acquisitions to good use each season with it spectacular couture shows which are usually made up of over sixty hand-crafted looks.

This season was no exception; guests flocked to the Champs-Elysées this morning to see a show which took place in a recreation of the Chanel ateliers. Petites mains were hard at work on the makeshift runway, adding finishing touches and staging live fittings as guests took their seats. The emphasis today was on technique, construction and the intimate nature of haute couture – as fashion becomes faster than ever, Lagerfeld stressed the ongoing need for couture and its unique labour of love.

THE EMPHASIS WAS ON THE ATELIERS

It’s not unusual to see elaborate sets at Chanel shows – last season’s couture showing was staged inside an eco-friendly pavilion commissioned and constructed especially for the occasion. Other sets have included supermarkets, airports and makeshift protests, but the AW16 couture invitation immediately suggested a more low-key approach, complete with one of Lagerfeld’s painterly illustrations that hinted that emphasis would be on the ateliers.

THE SET WAS MORE INTIMATE THAN USUAL

King Karl kept things decidedly low-key this season, recreating Chanel’s ateliers in the grandiose surroundings of the Grand Palais. The French house is renowned for its support of artisan workshops, having purchased the likes of embroidery house Lesage and feather specialist Lemarié to preserve their rare trades and keep crucial family businesses afloat. Together, the artisanal companies owned by Chanel have over a millennia of experience. 

ARTISANS WORKED IN FRONT OF GUESTS

The couture industry is driven by petites mains; the prized workers responsible for beading, embroidering and embellishing intricate couture looks. These elusive artisans usually work behind the scenes, but today they were placed centre stage, working on garments in the background as the show proceeded.

WILLOW SMITH MADE AN APPEARANCE

It was mere months ago that Chanel announced Willow Smith as its newest brand ambassador – already, the 15-year-old star has been shot by Lagerfeld himself in the brand’s AW16 eyewear campaign. Naturally Smith made an appearance at today’s show, accompanied by her famous father and dressed in a belted teal sleeveless jacket offset with a sweep of eyeshadow.

THE FAMOUS TWEED SUIT WAS REWORKED

The skirt suit was and still remains the original Chanel staple. Originally pioneered by Coco Chanel herself, the iconic style has undergone several renovations over the last century; today’s reconfiguration of the house signature came in various colourways of thick tweed with and super-short skirts teamed with over-the-knee boots.

ROMANCE RULED THE RUNWAY

Feathers, flowers and fine embroidery; a large selection of today’s highlights were unashamedly romantic. Floral motifs crept onto traditional tweed, dual-layered dresses juxtaposed block colour and intricate patterns and one particular standout came in the form of a pleated floor-length dress whose bodice was decorated with twinkling beaded flowers and miniscule stars.

THE BRIDE WORE A FEATHER-TRIMMED COAT

A series of the show’s most breathtaking looks were adorned with thousands of individually-dyed feathers in a spectrum of colours. The spectacular finale was the one key example – today’s ‘bride’ eschewed a traditional dress in favour of an elaborate pale pink sequinned evening coat complete with its own spectacular train which trailed along the runway.

THE EVENING GOWN WAS REDEFINED

The most beautiful element of couture is its potential for sheer fantasy. Lagerfeld today demonstrated this with his inventive array of evening gowns; there were a series of goth princess looks characterised by ruched jet black satin and lashings of lace; there were embroidered high-collared dresses adorned with intricate swirls and, finally, a buzz of youthful energy with halterneck ballgowns studded with iridescent sequins.

Stay tuned for Susie Lau’s report and all the photos from the show.