Pin It
Chanel Haute Couture AW16
Chanel Haute Couture AW16Photography Virginie Khateeb

Chanel pays tribute to the women who create its couture

Putting the petite mains who craft collections onto the runway, the house made a case for the lasting power of fashion’s most fantastical form

Words and terms thrown about at haute couture can often sound meaningless. Haughty phrases like “savoir-faire”, “tailleur”, “flou” and “vendeuse” match the super-haute prices of what is a rarified industry reserved for the fortunate few. Still, these words linger for a reason, and at Chanel’s latest haute couture show, Karl Lagerfeld demonstrated why the fawning veneration is completely warranted. 

In a much more intimate set in the Grand Palais, the famed haute couture ateliers of Rue Cambon were recreated in circular formation, complete with rolls of fabric, padded-out Stockman mannequins, production schedules and sketches tacked on to the walls, and of course the petites mains – the largely female seamstresses and craftsmen working away on pieces from the haute couture AW16 collection that we were about to see. And it really was a true recreation. Models were being fitted with paper toiles. Patterns were being cut. Fabric was being pleated and draped to form what would be the pleated shouldered frocks that would later feature in the show. Even the secret process of creating forms of clients’ mannequins being padded out with strips of fabric was on show. For those unfamiliar with the process, it would have been an eye-opening and evocative experience, and for those that were, it was an affirmation of haute couture’s validity in the fashion industry. This was haute couture at work, providing employment to the skilled. 

“As a backdrop, it was perhaps one of Chanel’s most potent haute couture settings, more effective and persuasive than say a casino or a giant Chanel jacket sculpture”

As a backdrop, it was perhaps one of Chanel’s most potent haute couture settings, more effective and persuasive than say a casino or a giant Chanel jacket sculpture. As the petites mains toiled, draped and stitched, Lagerfeld’s sharp shouldered reworking of the Chanel suit was more pronounced, along with the emphasis on the wide-legged cropped trouser shape. These shoulders almost looked hexagonal in some of the jackets, contrasting with the models’ heads of piled up soft ringlets. For eveningwear, heavily pleated and ruched dresses took on an Edwardian vibe with high necks and Poiret-esque hobble skirts. The shoulders were further accentuated with evening dresses often adorned with fan of organza ruffles or in the case of Edie Campbell’s finale sequinned jacket, a splay of pale pink feathers trailing into a magnificent floor-length cape.  

If existing clients were previously unaware of the amount of work that goes into their six-figure costing couture ensembles, then they got an insight into a world that always bears reminding, even in an age where the secrets of haute couture are open to media’s scrutiny. The most touching gesture of the show perhaps came courtesy of Lagerfeld himself, as he gathered the heads of the ateliers – two flou and two tailleur – Mmes. Cécile, Jacqueline, Olivia and Josette to take a bow with him around the set. The applause was thundering. Especially as Lagerfeld came out again with his leading ladies, who still touchingly had Chanel sewing kits hanging around their necks.