Friday, 7 December 2018

chanel: mummifying manhattan (pre-fall 2019)

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I haven't written about Chanel for a while. This is because I really think it's time for Karl Lagerfeld to step down as creative director. His work for the brand peaked in the '00s and early '10s, but since then it has gone downhill. In April this year, Lagerfeld's comments about #MeToo proved how behind the times he really is.

When I heard that Lagerfeld's latest collection was inspired by Ancient Egypt I wasn't too sure what to expect. On one hand, I used to be obsessed with Ancient Egypt as a kid and Chanel has always been excellent at destination shows, but on the other, it would be easy to make it look, tacky, outdated and colonial. Chanel does not have a great history with diversity, so taking inspiration from an African country does not sit entirely comfortably. For Pre-Fall 2019, Alton Mason became the first black male model to walk in a Chanel show in its 109-year history.

I watched the show yesterday and, as usual, was blown away by the atmosphere. Unfortunately, though predictably, the clothes did not live up to it. This is a particular shame considering that the show took place at the Met in New York, meaning that part of the museum was closed off to visitors. Whether designers should be allowed to close public museums to show their collections is a contentious issue. In February this year, visitors to London's National Gallery were outraged when it was closed for a whole day for Erdem's London Fashion Week Show. Chanel had to pay the Met to host their show there, and it allegedly took a lot of persuasion for the museum to allow it.

The show took place around the Temple of Dendur, which is part of the Met's Egyptian collection in the Sackler Wing. When I visited the Met last summer, this was one of my favourite rooms. The temple itself was built in 15BC and gifted to the USA from Egypt in the '60s following a UNESCO project to relocate important sites at risk of being submerged by Lake Nassar. It has been on display in the Met since 1978.

Chanel is no stranger to extravagant sets. At recent shows, we have seen ceiling high waterfalls, cruise ships, and rockets. Chanel's Autumn/Winter 2018 show sparked an outcry from sustainability activists after felling century-old oaks to create the autumnal scene. Perhaps using a permanent set instead of an especially made disposable one forms part of Chanel's effort to become more eco-friendly.

I am not overly enamoured with this first look. It is not attention grabbing and the colours are stale. Throwing a beige tweed jacket over everything does not equal quintessential Chanel chic. I do like the shape and think that an oversized jacket covering a minimalist gossamer skirt creates a modern look. The boxy shape and white floor-length skirt reappear throughout the collection. The accessories are the only hint to the decadence of Ancient Egyptian style. Overall, this look is very simple and what we have come to expect from Lagerfeld's Chanel. There is nothing that stands out.

We see a lot of gold throughout this collection. Gold is an overarching material that links Ancient Egypt to 21st century New York City. The Ancient Egyptians believed that gold was a heavenly metal, associated with Ra, the Sun God. New York worships gold in a more figurative sense in its endless pursuit of money and material wealth. In this look, the muslin dress appears again. Ancient Egyptian women mostly wore floor-length sleeveless dresses embellished with beading or feathers. However, Lagerfeld did little research for the collection, telling WWD, "This was not looking at books and doing it. It was the mood, the feeling, what I remember and things like that."

Now I want to discuss the looks like I actually liked. Karl does a really good job when he works with black and white. It avoids the stuffiness of brown and beige as well as the garishness of brights and neons. This look is subtly sophisticated, if we ignore the gold hat that inexplicably reappears throughout the collection. The oversized jacket gives me borrowing your boyfriend's jacket to wear over your skimpy dress vibes, which will always be a look. Layered necklaces are a frequent motif in Lagerfeld's Chanel, offering an antithesis to the Coco Chanel maxim: "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off."

Chanel's announcement that it will no longer be using exotic skins is perhaps the most monumental announcement regarding sustainability and animal welfare from any fashion house this year. This faux croc jacket asserts that synthetic materials are of high enough quality to maintain the luxury allure associated with Chanel. Exotics have long been a status symbol for the wealthiest of luxury clients, but we can hope that Chanel is turning the tide and other brands will soon follow suit. This look has more of a toughness than what we are used to seeing from Chanel. The coat could fit better, but overall this is one of the strongest looks. These gold boots do tilt towards tacky, but they're such bad taste that they're good taste.

There are also several nods to the '80s; New York's most lavish and overindulgent decade. Parallels can be drawn between decadent representations of Cleopatra's Egypt and Wall Street in the '80s. However, pairing gaudy jumpers with glossy jeans screams cheap rather than opulent.

The last time Chanel hosted a New York Show was in 2007.

This was Chanel's first New York show since the brand took over Grand Central for their Cruise collection in 2007, which was a much more minimalist affair. Contemporary and monochromatic; this was Karl's best era. Though Ancient Egypt provides a wealth of inspiration to draw from, Pre-Fall 2019 falls short. I can't help but feel Chanel is becoming more out of touch each season. Even Kaia Gerber, Pharell, and Lily-Rose Depp can't make the label fresh and exciting. The makeup and jewellery in this collection touches on class and creativity, but the styling looks tacky. Plus, tweed jackets are a little warm for the Egyptian heat, non?

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