Karl Lagerfeld can’t move mountains just yet. Today, he had to settle for a mere forest, shipped into the Grand Palais tree by tree. His guests wandered through the woods till they happened upon a classical amphitheater. “Neo-classical,” Karl clarified. He was dreaming of Weimar, sylvan hub of German Romanticism in the late eighteenth century, home to Goethe and Schiller. Connoisseurs of synchronicity might appreciate the fact that one of Schiller’s best-known plays was Mary Stuart. She was the inspiration for the pre-fall spectacle Lagerfeld staged for Chanel in Edinburgh last month.
Only last month? What is this man made of to be able to turn round and produce another, quite distinct collection of equal richness and complexity? The concept of spreading oneself too thin is clearly as alien to Lagerfeld as the notion of gaining one single, solitary kilo. “I always feel I can do better,” he said after the show. “The minute you think you did it, you should stop.”
And better he did this time—maybe even the best, in a while at least. The romance of Weimar infused a couture collection whose substance was glitter and shine. The daytime tweeds sparkled, the evening looks were a hymn to the sequin. The silhouette was determined by a feature Lagerfeld called “frame shoulders.” Sometimes they looked articulated, almost like armor. Other times they were fichu-like. They were intended, the designer explained, to highlight the neck, rising swanlike from the shoulders, like “the cleavage thing from the Second Empire.” When he inserted a top in luminous white or silver into his frame shoulders, Lagerfeld got himself a couture reflector. “Shine is beautiful for the summer,” he said. “It lights the face.”
Weimar was also the birthplace of the Bauhaus, and there was something of that design movement’s rigor in long, lean evening columns. Anything that looked like a print was actually embroidery—the man-hours involved in such technical feats clearly involved rigors of another kind.
Beautiful as the collection was—and ending as it did with two brides, the designer’s poke at the gay-marriage controversy currently roiling France—its most striking feature was its melancholic mood. This wasn’t so much one for the Karlettes, Lagerfeld’s coterie of young female fans. “Art de vivre, not joie de vivre, ” Lagerfeld agreed. Hair and makeup featured feathery effects, as though the models were birds in the woods, but a Miss Havisham quality crept in toward the end, as the feathers settled over shoulders and trailed behind dresses. “There’s nothing more elegant than a certain kind of melancholia,” Lagerfeld mused. And surely there is nothing that induces melancholia like the transience of beauty.
Not that Karl would ever allow himself a moment to reflect on such things—or even to savor his triumph. Nope, he was off to the atelier, where he would spend the afternoon fitting his next ready-to-wear collection.