PARIS - Karl Lagerfeld is always one step ahead of the pack.
As fashion editors shed layers to cope with a heat wave, the Chanel maestro piled them back on in his autumn-winter haute couture collection.
Guests including pop singers Elton John and Kylie Minogue gathered in a circular tent in a park for the display on the second day of the couture shows, which also featured outfits by Christian Lacroix.
Models wearing jaunty little dresses with thigh-high denim boots and matching shoulder-length gloves spun around a blinding white set that revolved for the spectacular finale.
"I saw it in a dream," Lagerfeld said of the ambitious construction. "I got up and made sketches and it is exactly as I imagined it."
One of the world's most prestigious brands, Chanel is privately owned by the secretive Wertheimer family, which spares no expense in making the designer's wildest fantasies come true.
The company has bought up several of its suppliers, including a featherer and a shoemaker, to guarantee the survival of the age-old traditions that go into making hand-crafted couture items with stratospheric price tags.
Gowns dripping with gold tassels betrayed hours of painstaking embroidery, while boots featured elaborate jeweled crosses on the heels. Lagerfeld stuck to a sober palette of black, gray and indigo, with the notable exception of a cherry pink taffeta coat.
Dresses were cropped above the knee and paired with long boots that made for a mile-long stride. Lagerfeld said he wanted "a bit more depth, of visual aggressiveness" after his delicate summer collection six months ago.
That translated into chunky pebble appliques on a black shift dress with capped shoulders that were a tribute to the skill of the "petites mains" ("little hands"), as couture seamstresses are known.
The designer explained that they had invented a new cut to ensure the snug sleeves did not constrict the wearer's movements. After all, Coco Chanel once said: "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury."
Lacroix thoughtfully provided his guests with fans as temperatures soared inside the Fine Arts school, where he presented a Spanish-flavored parade of dramatic infantas.
Models with black wigs trimmed with jet beads peeled off their precious coats to reveal even more glittering outfits underneath, as the designer tapped into his Mediterranean heritage to let loose an explosion of lace, silk and ruffles in Goya-inspired shades.
A sculptural black faille opera coat was in the purest tradition of the great Spanish master of couture, Cristobal Balenciaga, who is the subject of a retrospective that opened Thursday at the Museum of Fashion and Textiles.
"I think this is probably one of his best collections ever. I was absolutely astounded," said Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe, whose clients include Jennifer Garner and Nicole Richie.
Falic Group, which owns the label, has big plans for Lacroix in the United States, with the opening of his first freestanding store in Las Vegas scheduled for later this month and another one in New York within the next year.
"We feel that if we make the right impact and a big enough impact on North America, other markets will fall in line afterwards," Simon Falic, the chairman of the group, told The Associated Press.
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