Chanel goes on an epic Texan adventure for its latest Métiers d’art collection, staged on a rodeo-chic runway.
An icy snowstorm in Dallas, reportedly one of the worst in 60 years, was not part of Karl Lagerfeld’s elaborate presentation. Cross-continental flights were cancelled, roads were slippery, and planes detoured – the one coming in from Paris with show models and Chanel executives diverted to Houston, where the entourage then bused it four hours down to the Texan metropolis. Every thought of cowboy-land was brought down to a sub-zero reality check, where red-hot tacos and black Chanel puffas did little to warm the 900plus guests in town for Chanel’s latest fashion fantasy. But the Kaiser being the ultimate ringmaster made sure the show went on, and a dang good one at that. ParisDallas Pre-Fall ’14 was an utterly Chanel take on the Wild West, where this 11th Métiers d’Art show – an annual demi-couture collection featuring the craftsmanship of its 10 artisan workshops, held at storied destinations from Istanbul to Scotland – was styled after historical Americana. “It’s the idea of old Texas, even before the Civil War,” Lagerfeld expressed, with a hint of romanticism; a time when cowboys were “very sophisticated”.
The prelude to the show held at the Dallas Fair Park, a national historic building of Art Deco architecture, was the first surprise: a retro drive-in movie premier of Lagerfeld’s film The Return starring Geraldine Chaplin as Gabrielle Chanel. Guests sat in gleaming vintage collectible cars, and snacked on classic Americana fare of Cracker Jack, Milk Duds, and Coca-Cola served by soda shop boys on bicycles. The 20-minute short was Lagerfeld’s semi-fictional biopic on Coco Chanel’s return to fashion after her hiatus during World War II. Pivotal to the plot was Stanley Marcus – scion of the Neiman Marcus retail empire – welcoming Mlle Chanel to Dallas in 1957 and awarding her with the prestigious Neiman Marcus Award. (The day after this ParisDallas show, Lagerfeld was awarded with the same honour). America was the place where Chanel was already a famous name for the commercial success of N˚5, for dressing up Hollywood stars, and for her modern fashion. “I admire and love America. It’s where I made my fortune,” she has said. “For many Americans, I am France.”
This made the historical significance of Dallas for Chanel’s special collection – a moment Lagerfeld called ‘Coco Chanel: Back in Dallas’ – and of course for the fantasy it afforded him. For the show, he recreated an elaborate rodeo barn arena, covered in hay and decorated with Confederate flags, where guests sat in tiered wooden stands ready to be transported to Dallas circa 1890 – an era of feathered headpieces, prairie skirts, ponchos, Navajo jewellery, and leather chaps, depending if you were playing Cowboy or Indian. Or both, where many looks were exquisite hybrids, accentuated with Chanel signatures of tweed, camellias, ruffles, and pearls. Perhaps bordering on being costume-like, but throw off the stetson or Sante Fe boots and everything looked chic, and fashionably modern.
The iconic Chanel suit opened the show, sober midlength versions worn with boxy jackets with embroidered-and-tasselled cuffs, which then evolved into an exuberant array of fringed, denim, feathered, and ruffled versions styled with knit ponchos and jewelled buttons by Desrues. The western saddle gave form to jackets adventurously peaked at the shoulders, and on quilted leather saddle bags tasselled to the hilt. Boots were the order of the day, made by artisan shoemakers Massaro: one version with trompe l’oeil styling featured decorative embroidery on tights, to resemble Western boots when worn with black jewellery-buckle pumps. Then there was a Chanel-quilted pistol holder, and logo-and-star stamped backpacks – novel show creations that have sparked waiting lists from Southfork to Shanghai. “It’s made in an artisan way, in the very best sense of that word, because in artisan there is ‘art’. The art of doing things well. An applied art,” Lagerfeld explained.
And what’s Western style without high blue rodeo denim, some patch-worked and worn with mini cardigans, lassoes of pearls and silver jewellery; others cut into Prairiestyle pinafores with white cotton tiered petticoats or ruffled blouses? And of course, leather – on pants, suits, and distressed on circle skirts. Eveningwear was lightly fabricated and brightly embroidered with a thousand-and-one silver and red stars, tiny suede sequins, or fringed or appliquéd in tribe prints. The show was brought to an incredible finale with a series of white looks – the Chanel bride by way of Navajo – in tiers of ruffled chiffon, organza, and delicate embroidery. It was a fresh end to a richly detailed collection. Caroline de Maigret made the final exit in an all-white ensemble of pintucked-and-tasselled chiffon, lace-up trousers, and a floor-length white feather headdress for a veil.
The ringmaster had done it again, warming up our imaginations with his latest extravaganza; these cowboy dreams on the trail to you now in a chic black box.