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Chanel’s Cruise show was a fantasy vision of Ancient Greece

“It had nothing to do with a country,” says Karl – “Reality is of no interest to me”. Susie Lau reports

While Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen were slinging barbs at each other on the televised debate ahead of the second-round of the French election, Karl Lagerfeld was creating his own collision of contrasts. “The antique and the modern. Antique is modern,” read the press notes for Chanel’s latest Cruise show that was staged yesterday, not in a far-flung location (previous jaunts include Cuba, Singapore and Dubai) but back on home turf at the Grand Palais in Paris. The theme also took a time lurch from the future of space travel pondered at AW17’s staggering rocket launch, winding back thousands of years to ancient Greek civilisation. Through a warren of terracotta stuccoed walls, we entered a transformative set of doric column Parthenon-inspired ruins, amphoras and olive trees set against an ombré twilight sky. The backdrop may have been ancient in appearance but this excavation site was a clue to a vision of Greece of Lagerfeld’s imagination. “It had nothing to do with a country,” asserted Lagerfeld in the press notes. “Reality is of no interest to me. I use what I like. My Greece is an idea.”

The starting point stems of course back to Gabrielle Chanel, who designed the costumes for Jean Cocteau’s 1922 staging of Antigone as well as the pure lines of a marble Venus that sits in Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment. The nymphs that emerged from the temple ruins in their ethereal pleated and draped dresses, harked back to the freeing attire of dancer Isadora Duncan as well as Coco Chanel’s fashion contemporary Madame Grès, the original queen of Grecian goddess gowns. But Lagerfeld’s idea of Greece also traversed through to more recent hedonistic times with exuberant printed chiffon caped dresses, Midas gold glitz and bejewelled corsets and serpent armbands, befitting of glamorous pool parties (your average Chanel Cruise client is likely to be a pool-owning hostess right?). Shifting forward to today, frayed-edged tweeds in chalky white and nubbly tunics would fit right into the sparkling Aegean blues of all of those Greek island holiday Instas that dominate feeds during the height of summer. And of course it ain’t a Chanel show without some indulgence in thematic kitsch as seen in the Ionic column heeled gladiator sandals in hues or coral and turquoise and an Owl of Athena imprinted in gold on a CC embossed handbag.

“It is really about the youth of the world in all its power and unpredictability – just like the unforgiving gods” – Karl Lagerfeld 

Lagerfeld’s aesthetic motivation for mining this ancient civilisation was a tried-and-tested fashion truism – that in order to move forward, you have to look back. “The criteria of beauty in ancient, then classical, Greece still hold true. There have never been more beautiful representations of women. Or more beautiful columns. The entire Renaissance, in fact, was based on Antiquity.” Undoubtedly the combination of those sculpted draped jersey dresses and diaphanous white pleats paired with lashings of gold hardware had a timeless quality that will always be welcomed in the context of a sun-worshipping resort wardrobe.

Still, there's some hint of Zeus-esque furor. “It is really about the youth of the world in all its power and unpredictability – just like the unforgiving gods,” said Lagerfeld in one lone cryptic line. Chip away further at the marble and stone and you wondered whether Lagerfeld was expressing a Pro-EU sentiment with his Grecian jaunt. Interestingly, in 1944 the French dramatist Jean Anouilh reinterpreted Antigone as an anti-Fascist heroine, against a backdrop of Nazi-occupied Paris. Was it a swipe at Le Pen? Perhaps. Whatever Lagerfeld’s political views, the contrast between the Bacchanalian feast that took place after the show, complete with charcoal roasted gyro (yes, we ate meat on a stick at a Chanel party), and the rainy reality of rush hour Paris was stark. 

The cumulative effect of transforming a corner of the Grand Palais into a sun-drenched and olive-kissed Greece was that it bolstered the city of light amidst a fiercely fought political battle and a fraught atmosphere from yet another terror attack on the Champs-Élysées. Chanel may have pioneered the travelling exotic cruise show but the decision to bring it back to its home city is the mark of solidarity with the fashion capital that made complete sense.