Karl Lagerfeld is probably the most recognisable fashion designer in the world, but the name in lights at Paris fashion week is that of Chanel, not Lagerfeld himself. Lagerfeld has presided over Chanel for 30 years, but remains the Thomas Cromwell of this kingdom. He is puppetmaster and strategist, too wily to allow his own ego to derail a masterplan.
The Chanel catwalk shows, held each season inside the cavernous Grand Palais with a cast of hundreds and an audience of thousands, bring central Paris to a standstill in a blare of traffic whistles.
The first message is one of scale. Recent show sets have featured wind turbines, icebergs and a 12m-long golden lion. On Tuesday, the space was dominated by an enormous rotating globe in the centre of the catwalk, a sparkling flag bearing the double-C trademark pinned to show the location of each Chanel boutique. It was an impressive show of global power – who knew Chanel had not one, but two boutiques in Honolulu? – but also neatly broadened the focus of the event, from the arcane procedures of a Paris show – the ritualistic pomp, the place names in traditional calligraphy – to the reality of a luxury brand in the 21st century.
But what matters most at any fashion show is beauty. And since there can be few human beings whose heart does not soar at the familiar yet awesome image of a gently spinning Earth as viewed from space, the globe was a triumphant centrepiece.
For all the space-age symbolism, this was the most traditional Chanel collection Lagerfeld has shown for a while. (Perhaps that is what perspective does to you.) Ignore the crazy accessories and the look centred on the key moments in the Chanel story. Bouclé tweed suits came in glittering chic monochrome, in a mélange of crimson and black, or in soft heathery pinks. Day dresses came in the drop waist silhouette so chic in Coco's heyday. For evening, elegant silk dresses in softly voluminous shapes took their cue from the atelier rather than the street.
But to ignore the crazy accessories would be to miss not only the fun, but a fundamental element of this brand. Cricket-ball sized globes dangled from Chanel's famous gold chains as next season's talking-point handbag. Furry, close-cropped aviator hats in bright colours brought a dash of the daredevil, globetrotting spirit of Amelia Earhart – a woman of the same era as Coco Chanel, of course – and conjoined it with the vogue for neon beanie hats which has seized the growing fashion blogger population during what has been an unusually chilly month of fashion shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris.
The Earhart reference echoed through the jackets, which were cut longer than usual and with a multitude of pockets, flying-jacket style. Lagerfeld himself made cameo appearances woven into the catwalk persona, as he always does. This season he was represented by the leather leggings and by a staggering variety of fingerless gloves. One pair had the tiniest of windows cut into the leather over the fingernail, the better to showcase the latest brand of Chanel nail polish – a rich red called Accessoire, a bottle of which was handed to each show attendee in a beribboned Chanel bag. The devil is in the detail, and Lagerfeld is not one to miss a trick. – Guardian News and Media 2013