Whether in ready-to-wear or Couture, the set design of a Chanel show always plays an important part in Karl Lagerfeld's seasonal offering. In fact, it has a decisive impact on the collection's storytelling and the designer's creative vocabulary, which he thoroughly developed and established ever since he was appointed at the helm of the iconic French maison in 1983.
We all remember Chanel's most mesmerizing settings and show backdrops, including recent ones that caused much ink to flow, such as the maison's Fall 2014 ready-to-wear show that featured a fake supermarket that had Chanel-branded products “on sale,” or the time Karl Lagerfeld brought Paris to Rome by recreating the iconic Cinecittà Studios on the occasion of the Chanel Métiers d’Art Pre-Fall 2016 show, as well as the maison's opulent Cruise shows, such as the one on an artificial island in Dubai (Cruise 2014/2015) and the more recent trip to Cuba where the show was staged on the legendary Paseo del Prado (Cruise 2016/17).
Chanel runway shows are not just about showcasing the latest collection or jumping on the latest trends; they set the tone for more: four times a year, at Paris' Grand Palais, Karl Lagerfeld creates a universe of its own. An alternate dimension that bears a striking resemblance to himself, as a designer and creative mind. Both the shows and their maestro are always eclectic, surprising, and yet very sophisticated – l'élégance Chanel est de rigueur – and seeing a Chanel show IRL makes even the toughest editor feel like a child in a chocolate factory.
But this time around, with Chanel's latest "Les Ateliers Haute Couture" runway show something changed – the focus switched from the luxurious scenery that makes for Chanel's iconic imagery to the actual people who make Chanel happen each and every season: the artisans, the master craftswomen and men – les petites mains, like the French say – who translate Karl Lagerfeld's genuine fashion dreams into palpable statement pieces that are impeccably sewn from inside out and made to last both in our wardrobes and in our cultural consciousness.
In this sense, one could admire the seamstresses at work – they weren't pretending; they were actually sewing, embroidering, measuring, and fitting – in a staged atelier set alongside the runway, while taking a look at Chanel's Fall/Winter 2016-17 Haute Couture during the show. Highlights included 60s inspired outfits with a clean line and strong shoulders that had an empowering effect on the silhouettes, as well as contemporary A-line shaped jumpsuits worn under long jackets, and a beautiful take on surface design which featured embroidery with crystal and feather adorned creations.
But why would Karl Lagerfeld want to reveal the best kept secrets of Chanel's Haute Couture ateliers? Rest assured, this wasn't just a random "behind the scenes" marketing strategy. Chanel's Haute Couture offering was Karl Largerfeld's tribute to the maison's heritage and success, but most importantly it was a way of showing his respect for his team of artisans, a way of paying tribute to and giving thanks for their expertise and high level of technical capability.
A beautiful tribute that came with a somewhat melancholic after-taste – after all, the fashion industry is aware that Karl Lagerfeld is in the last phase of his career at Chanel. Time to say goodbye? Not just yet. Ever the pioneer, Mr Lagerfeld still has many more tricks up his sleeve and there are many more beautiful Chanel runway shows to come. And for those who wonder what Karl Lagerfeld is up to next, watch this space for our exclusive coverage of the 90th anniversary of Fendi in Rome that will be celebrated with a runway show at the legendary Fontana di Trevi. See, we told you, King Karl is not about to abdicate his throne – and he will continue to transport us into his luxurious fantasy world.