Chanel AF. Chanel SS’97 Couture

On Monday, May 1st, the 2023 Met Gala will take place. This year’s Costume Institute exhibition, “A Line of Beauty,” will celebrate the oeuvre and life of Karl Lagerfeld. The exhibition will see Andrew Bolton and Wendy Yu, curators in charge, examine the work of Karl Lagerfeld (1933–2019). Throughout his lifetime, Lagerfeld worked at prominent fashion houses such as Balmain, Chloé, Fendi, Chanel, in addition to founding his namesake brand.  More than 150 pieces will be on display in the exhibition, many of which will be accompanied by Lagerfeld’s sketches. In the following days, I will look back at my all-time favorite Chanel collections, designed by the one & only Karl. Hope some of these magnificent looks will end up on the red carpet on the first Monday in May…

First up is the stunning spring-summer 1997 haute couture collection. It’s a Lagerfeld collection that can be simply summed up as “Chanel af“. Behind the scenes, Amanda Harlech, a trusted arbiter of taste, jumped from Dior to Chanel just in time to put finishing touches on a collection of what Karl Lagerfeld described as nonexistent dresses and exploded shoes. “It’s hysterical Chanel,” the designer said. Harlech expanded on that, telling Hamish Bowles, “It’s about Chanel proportions and luxury pushed to absolute nervous-breakdown extremes!” Just as the rooms he showed in at the Ritz were veiled with tulle, so Lagerfeld wrapped his creations in luxury, replacing buttons with real pearls or diamond camellia clip brooches. Adding a sense of fun were the dramatic headpieces by Philip Treacy, some of which bobbed atop heads like antennae tuned into chic. There were LBDs galore, along with wide-legged pantsuits, however the “unbearable lightness of being” Lagerfeld was after was to be found in the evening looks, many with silhouettes that nodded to the late ’20s and early ’30s—Coco Chanel’s own heyday. Shalom Harlow wore the collection’s pièce de résistance: a feather-white strapless confection, which looked as if it were crafted from air. Over a stem of pale chiffon, the atelier had constructed a 3-D “cage” of many, many camellias made of sequins, and then cut the fabric ground away so that it resembled a Wilson Bentley photograph of a snowflake or the tracery of a stained glass window. Possibly, that’s one of the chicest collection ever in fashion history.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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