How Chanel's Korean-Influenced Collection Got It Right

Photo: Courtesy of Chanel.
On Monday, New York hosted the fashion event of the year, The Met Gala, for its exhibition exploring (and at times wrongly celebrating) China's influence on the Western imagination. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Karl Lagerfeld presented a different kind of Western lens into the Eastern experience: Chanel's cruise '15 collection.

The runway show was held in Seoul, South Korea, in a Zaha Hadid-designed, cavernous white space festooned with Twister dots, and featured over 90 looks from the prolific designer. As usual, Lagerfeld's approach was to fuse Chanel's design elements with whatever idea is currently capturing his imagination. Often, the concepts feel richly realized, as was the case with his sumptuous, theatrical looks at the Métiers D'Arts Paris-Salzburg show last year. Other times, as with the infamous "Feminist Protest" show, Lagerfeld exhibits a glib relation to his own source material, and the results are lovely clothes totally bereft of their stated significance.

The cruise collection, thankfully, was a happy marriage of inspiration and execution. The brand cited a traditional Korean garment as a jumping-off point. And, sure enough, the hanbok's simple, full silhouette was represented in several looks, including the beautiful, peach-and-cream patchwork dress that closed the show.
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Photo: Courtesy of Chanel.

The jeogori, a very short jacket traditionally worn with the hanbok, may have also inspired the handful of looks that bisected the body at the bust, giving the appearance of an extreme empire waist.
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel.
Some looks incorporated saekdongot, the colorfully striped, patchwork form of hanbok usually worn by children. (And although it's hard to tell in abstract form, that could either be South Korea's national flower, the rose of Sharon, or the classic Chanel camellia we spy decorating the model's V-neck.)
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel.
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Some models sported synthetic hair tufted in milkmaid-braid or raver-bun multiples; others done in the style of jokduri, the ornamented, black-silk-covered headpieces worn by Korean brides.
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel.
In a way, this show was an object lesson in how to be inspired by a culture, without cynically appropriating it. Rather than blatantly copying traditional Korean silhouettes, palettes, and patchworking techniques, Lagerfeld lets their influence subtly pervade a collection that draws just as heavily on Chanel's own design history (see the profusion of chains and tweed), and a certain Old Hollywood vision of resort wear (especially reflected in the kicky tennis whites and natty men's looks). 

Photo: Courtesy of Chanel.
Maybe in the end, the difference between influence and offense is how many original ideas are brought to the table. Here, we see a blend of inspirations from different eras and countries, thoughtfully mixed and respectfully presented, and it all goes together beautifully.
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