This year Karl Lagerfeld brought Chanel’s globe hopping cruise collection to the Middle East. Dubai, along with the rest of the region’s Gulf Cooperation Council countries, make up one of the world’s most active luxury demographics. And those consumers were out in force to see the designer and his harem of bejeweled models take to Chanel’s faux palm tree lined catwalk on Tuesday.
In true Dubai decadence, the spectacle began long before any models hit the runway, with guests being ferried via abras (water boats) to Jumeirah’s The Island, where a contemporary majlis—customary floor seating, decorated with Chanel’s take on the traditional mashrabiyas (traditional Islamic wooden window screens of Arabesque patterns), awaited them. Strategically seated in clusters around low tables and waterways, the front “row” was all-inclusive, and for good reason—here, in the Middle East, everyone is a “VIP.” Yet the true celebrities did manage to stand out. Vanessa Paradis, Tilda Swinton and Dakota Fanning were a few of the stars that flew in and were seen post-show enjoying the Gulf’s innate charm of Bedouin hospitality, which included a serenade from folk musicians.
The collection kicked off with a kitschy and literal interpretation of the shomagh—the patterned headdress of the Arab man’s garb. Unlike Riccardo Tisci’s 2010 Spring-Summer collection for Givenchy, which manipulated the pattern into a new print, Chanel’s pieces appeared somewhat contrived and offered what young, contemporary designers from the region have been constructing locally for years. The petrol shaped bags only added fuel to the fire. It is true that lately fashion has been showing its more comical side, Jeremy Scott’s latest fashion ode to fast food being a prime example, but it seemed that many of the Arabs didn’t see the witticism in the accessory.
The kohl-heavy models and their “natural” curls—an oddity for the Arab woman whose beauty regime includes a daily blowout, were surprisingly not dripping in accessories, as witnessed during Chanel’s 2013 Cruise collection in Mumbai. Rather chic headpieces rested above the crowns of each model’s head, and harem pants and pointed slippers completed the Princess Jasmine look.
While the waist was accentuated to illusory proportions for Chanel’s latest ready-to-wear collection, it had completely disappeared by the time it came to the Cruise collection. Coats hung loosely, while matching jacket, skirt, and pant sets strutted around the banquet hall. The layering seemed rather superfluous. Some looks were even styled with black stockings; reminiscent of the “black marker” censorship the region was once teased for in the 90’s. Truth be told, the audience was revealing more skin than the models; with only one runway look short enough to expose the knees.
While perhaps Lagerfeld’s aim at cultural awareness may have slightly missed the mark—too referential and too conservative, his pieces, if examined separately, did not. He still managed to show a beautiful collection that included some must-haves, from the feminine, chiffon harem pants, to the elaborate Moorish tile inspired embroidered pieces.
His mosaic prints and floral pieces reflected the beauty of the Orient, while his kaftans appeared just in time for some of the show’s “VIPs” to promptly snag for the month of Ramadan, when traditionally women’s wardrobes consist solely of the carefree silhouette. The pantsuits were casual and make the ideal uniform for the jet setting Arab often seen in the South of France in the summer. The beige and cream colors offered a calm companion to the desert background, while the pops of color in his eveningwear contained just the right amount of embellishment. The three-quarter sleeve coats are sure to make their way into the closets of Princess Ameera Altaweel of Saudi Arabia, who was in there attendance on Tuesday.
In place of model Cara Delevingne, Karl’s godson, Hudson Kroenig, closed the show in a traditional men’s thobe—the white dress worn by locals. After the show, guests stayed on the Chanel oasis to enjoy the Arab-style banquet and after-party in tents festooned with shisha pipes for their smoking pleasure.
“A romantic idea, without any folkloric touch, of an Orient of my imagination of the 21st century,” stated Lagerfeld of his collection, which unfortunately, may have been placed too far into the imagination, and not enough into the real, modern Arab world.