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The Intricacies of Chanel Airlines

Susannah Frankel checks into Chanel's sensational S/S16 airspace to discuss the house's globe-trotting new collection with Karl Lagerfeld

"This is the idea of the way it [flying] should be," said Karl Lagerfeld of the Paris Cambon airport that he and his team installed in the Grand Palais as backdrop to the Chanel Spring/Summer 2016 collection. "And in a way it was like this, but then they [airports] were smaller and flying was another business. This is a kind of place for a take-off to all kinds of directions and all kinds of situations." As is ever the case with France’s most fabled fashion name, no detail had been left unattended to – and, clearly, and excuse any vulgarity, no expense spared. Even ensuring that scale and cleanliness of bright white space would break most labels’ budgets. But then the Chanel show – broadcast worldwide and across all media – is perhaps the single most important marketing tool for a brand widely recognized as the wealthiest in the world.

"This is the idea of the way it [flying] should be." – Karl Lagerfeld

Boarding commenced at ‘Gate No. 5’, a play on the name of the scent introduced by the house’s founder on the fifth day, of the fifth month in 1921... Mlle Gabrielle was superstitious about numbers. It remains the most successful fragrance of all time with, as fashion folklore has it, a bottle still sold each and every minute somewhere in the world. Guests were greeted by check-in counters manned by especially good-looking stewardesses – they too were like a throwback to flying in its glamorous heyday – departure boards, baggage carrousels (perfect for displaying the ‘Coco Case’ a new and rather chic Chanel trolley bag) and even silver metal lounge seats for any VIPs in attendance.


A Fantasy for Daily Life
Throughout the show, and as always, the mise en scène was picked up on the clothes themselves. There were light-up, emergency exit sandals with sporty soles, arrow signage prints and tri-colour motifs across garments... even tiny silver airplanes dangled from signature Chanel chains. Then there was the models’ eye-mask make-up and reflective sunglasses that equally echoed that shape. "Even for expensive things and high fashion you have to be inspired in some way by daily life, and clothes have to fit in with the life of today," M Lagerfeld explained. "We are not creating something in an ivory tower which has no relationship to reality."

"We are not creating something in an ivory tower which has no relationship to reality." – Karl Lagerfeld

It is true that, for all the exclusive nature of Chanel clothing and accessories, their creator is endlessly interested in popular culture – in all culture, high and low, in fact – and in communicating his vision to as broad an audience as possible. While elements of his work are clearly elitist – the biannual haute couture and the Métiers d’Art collections in particular – the audacity of the blockbuster presentations for the ready-to-wear is aimed at anyone and everyone even remotely interested in fashion. They may not be able to afford the clothes, but they can and will purchase the lipstick or nail polish. And the clothes themselves, at least in part, also riff on this theme. There is a worldliness to the Chanel show which means that, alongside the most exquisitely conceived and elaborately beaded, embroidered and finely worked pieces comes denim – this time printed with flowers – wide-legged black leather jeans – great beneath an ankle-length skirt in that same skin – a perfect black tailored coat that any woman would love to wear… The list goes on, and on, and on. Equally as expansive as the set, this is the biggest of all the international collections by a long way.

A Retro-Futuristic Aspiration
That is not to suggest in any way that there is anything banal about the clothing seen here: it remains aspirational to the extreme. "I don’t want to be nasty," says the notoriously serpent-tongued couturier, "but of course in an airport, with the bus tours, it’s not the same as an airport as it was in the past, with first class, when travelling was something people dressed for. We live in another world." Certainly, were one to visit an airport and see a girl in a Chanel suit, this time stripped of collar, buttons and braiding and as chic as it is possible to imagine for that or a carlingue-effect, gleaming silver-embroidered jacket trimmed with sweet grosgrain bows, it would lift the spirits. There is often a futuristic – or retro-futuristic – flavour to Karl Lagerfeld’s handwriting.

"I don’t want to be nasty... but of course in an airport, with the bus tours, it’s not the same as an airport as it was in the past." – Karl Lagerfeld

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of
"Planes are silver. It was about signs, the reflection of the sun on the airplanes, the whole thing," he said. In the past "we did so much gold and golden chains at Chanel that it was fun to make everything silver and chrome. And the cabin cases, we now call them Coco Cases because everyone has, more or less, a quilted Chanel bag, so it was time to have a Chanel cabin carrier." A world where everyone did indeed have a Chanel quilted bag would doubtless be a more lovely place to be. Most of us will only ever dream of owning one, however. But then this was – and herein perhaps lies the secret – once again the stuff that dreams are made of.

"Everyone has, more or less, a quilted Chanel bag, so it was time to have a Chanel cabin carrier." – Karl Lagerfeld

At the end of the show, the marvellous man behind it all stepped out to take his bows with Cara Delevingne, who has appeared on no other runway this season, and holding his godson Hudson Kroenig’s hand. Like the world’s most fashionable family, suffice to say that they cut quite a dash.