A Chanel show under the reign of Karl Lagerfeld was always a famously spectacular affair. At one of his Chanel Metiers d’Art shows, that sense of wonder would be magnified multifold.
Introduced by the late designer in 2002, every one of this particular Chanel collection is based around and usually takes place in a far-flung destination connected to the historical French fashion house in some way. That it traditionally occurs in the festive month of December – a presentation independent of the industry’s fashion show schedule and unique to Chanel – only adds to the exoticism.
Held the night of Dec 5 last year, the latest – and what would be Lagerfeld’s last before his passing two months later – transported guests to Egypt by way of New York. In a press release, the Kaiser revealed that he had always been fascinated by civilisation in the Land Of The Nile.
Meanwhile, New York was where Gabrielle Chanel had often said she had made her fortune; its sportwear aesthetic resonated early with her vision of practical elegance. The result was not just sales, but a succession of honours including a place in the city’s Hall of Fame in 1931 and a decades-spanning relationship (the 1969 Broadway musical Coco; the first Metiers d’Art show in the Big Apple in 2005, followed by a Cruise show a year later).
This time, Lagerfeld found an uncanny meeting point for the two geographies in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur exhibit – an Egyptian monument that dates back to around 15BC and gifted to the New York art institute in 1978. Flanked by a reflecting pool meant to recall the Nile, the eight-metre-tall sandstone shrine formed a dramatic backdrop to Lagerfeld’s parade of slender, plastron-collared skirt suits and glittering gowns inspired by the kalasiris, the form-fitting long sheath worn by ancient Egyptian women. Lashings of jewellery and the colour gold – on leather boater hats, knee-high boots and airbrushed onto models’ legs – gave a further nod to Cleopatra style.
At the same time – because this was all coming together in NYC after all – there were denim aviator jackets and pop coloured cashmere sweaters guaranteed to please the streetwear crowd. The graffiti artist Cyril Kongo created raucous prints that turned up not just on the show invite, but also jackets, bags and drop-waist dresses. Lagerfeld had long been hailed as one of fashion’s most ambitious dreamweavers and – true to his words, “(when) I get inspired by an idea, I make it a reality” – even the most disparate of influences seemed to be able to converge with a wave of his fingerless-gloved hands.