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Chanel Couture AW15 casino
Chanel Haute Couture AW15Photography Virginie Khateeb

How Chanel’s casino took couture opulence to the next level

As a gang of VIPs sits down to play cards on Karl Lagerfeld’s runway, Susie Bubble explores the meanings behind the house’s gamble

Cercle Privé. Or private circle. Those were the words that loomed above us at the Grand Palais, and this is what we came to see in Chanel’s fantasy casino set-up at their latest haute couture show, which was more Monte Carlo than Atlantic City. This was a circle that in fact the whole world ended up being privy to, as Chanel’s star-studded coterie of celebrities began to clog up social media. It consisted of an eclectic cast of characters, who would all place their bets on the table. Or more precisely, placing their bets on Chanel, the rock-solid house that stands steady in an unstable world.

It was a drawn-out affair as each muse of the house sauntered up to tables in a hashtag-casual manner. You could choose who you wanted to relate to as each Chanel muse hit a certain target market with their personas that made for a surreal sight. Kristen Stewart – slightly awkward twenty-something. Lara Stone – serene blonde bombshell. Stella Tennant – country-loving tomboy. Rinko Kikuchi and G-Dragon – repped up the Asian contingent. Lily Collins – teen beauty queen. Rita Ora – mass chart appeal. Vanessa Paradis and her daughter Lily-Rose Depp – French chic personified. Jemima Kirke – wayward millenial (or basically the characters of Girls). Isabella Huppert and Julianne Moore – goddesses and legends. Karl Lagerfeld interpreted their personalities with their custom made Chanel outfits. Every piece of Chanel haute couture, with their hours of work in the atelier, is of course, made especially for you. 

This group of starry gamblers was an impressive show of power on Chanel’s part. The message was clear. Chanel is a maison with serious clout that “owns” haute couture fashion week. That power trip carried on into the show as the models maneuvered around the tables, with their mega contoured razor cheekbones and super sharp ebony power bobs. They recalled haughty models of the excess-laden 80s and early 90s and the collection was also tinged with that era where profit ruled above all else. Firstly, there was an onslaught of power suiting that featured a higher and sharper shoulder. These seamless tweeds were made with 3D printing, combining savoir faire with forward thinking technology. That’s another message for their clients - this isn’t a house that stands still in time. Then evening wear fluttered about with gold foiling, cupcake tiers of tulle and mounds of ruffles.    

“(The casino) consisted of an eclectic cast of characters, who would all place their bets on the table. Or more precisely, placing their bets on Chanel, the rock-solid house that stands steady in an unstable world”

Lagerfeld might have glibly talked about the glamorous way gamblers look at a table, but choosing to use the casino as his mise-en-scene is a clever way of announcing Chanel as a sure bet – one that is unflappable just as the world outside is ever unsure of itself. Chanel does a brisk and profitable trade in its haute couture and if you’re rich enough, you too can join their cercle privé. For those not in that ultra-wealthy bracket, joining Chanel’s circle via their perfumes, their cosmetics, their bags and their ready-to-wear keeps the change falling in Chanel’s privately owned slot machine.  

The final flourish to their gamble was a bride – an almost unrecognisable Kendall Jenner in a Bianca Jagger-esque wedding suit with a train of white tulle walking out to Barry White’s “Love Theme”. Who wears the trousers in this marriage? That was the uplifting takeaway for the female clients who not just wear the trousers but weld the cash. And they’ll have the last word.

Excess at haute couture fashion week is par for course. This has been a week where hyperbolic spectacle has been heaped upon us every day – Dior’s pointillist church, the Opéra lit up with roses at the Giambattista Valli and MAC’s anniversary bash, performances from the likes of Kylie Minogue and Lauryn Hill at the Lancôme and Tory Burch parties, 25,000 orchids on Versace’s runway and many more hours lavished on embroideries and embellishments evident at pretty much every show. And it’s not over yet. But Chanel’s Casino construct took excess to another level. As the conversation about the divide between the rich and the poor rages on in the real world, that wealth chasm was further amplified inside the Grand Palais. Inside this carpeted beige box, we're reminded of the immense monetary stakes at play at a behemoth like Chanel – and as every reviewer has been quick to remark, the house always wins.