We know what you’re thinking (because we thought it, too): another Chanel haute couture show about Paris. But before we put out a call for newness to the storied French fashion house, you’re better off asking yourself if there’s anything left to learn about the institution and the city that made it. For Karl Lagerfeld’s fall 2018 haute couture collection, he drew upon early memories, a post-war Paris that was struggling to dust itself off and move forward, and the bouquinistes that helped bring the joie de vivre back to the city.
At the Grand Palais, the scene — er, Seine — was set. Lining the runway as they do the historic river, like the Quai d’Orsay and Cours la Reine, verdigris colored stands that may look familiar to Parisians and tourists were filled with replicas of the books, posters, and old Vogues. (Unlike real life, however, these Chanel-themed memorabilia were not purchasable via cash.) This made for a torrent of Instagram opportunities and didn’t draw too much away from the clothes, as Lagerfeld’s larger-than-life ready-to-wear sets so often do. Celebrities like Tracee Ellis Ross, Lily Allen, Penelope Cruz, and more queued up to get their shots.
For an haute couture show that’s meant to be the best-of, so to speak, Lagerfeld’s latest offering was sturdy and stoic. The silhouettes were tight, framing bodies instead of extending them outward via tulle and chiffon — or all the things we love about the flou of a garment (made by the flouncy, party dressing arm of a couture atelier) — and hems were practical, no longer dragging behind or adding any unnecessary drama. We’ll assume this was meant to reflect the city’s quest for normalcy after a period of postwar trauma. And in terms of color, well, there wasn’t much outside of a stream of grays and black; save for a shimmering Adut Akech in pale green who closed the show as Chanel’s latest and greatest bride.
It’s this return to its Parisian roots that Chanel, founded in 1910, sends a friendly reminder to those who indulge themselves in haute couture that an outfit can carry a past just as precious as whoever wears it. That the garments are made by hand and include top of the line embroidery (for Chanel, this means by Lesage) is standard; that they understand the history of the garment, too, is worth just as much as its price tag — especially at a time when clothes just feel like clothes. Ahead, we photographed the cooler moments of Chanel’s fall 2018 haute couture show for your viewing and pleasure. It may not be the most memorable offering from Lagerfeld, but it is one of his more complex — an homage to the beautiful and ugly parts of a most romantic city.