Barbarian Romance. Chanel Pre-Fall 2013

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…

Dressed to kilt.” How else was Karl Lagerfeld going to define the collection he showed for Chanel outside of Edinburgh for pre-fall 2013? The thick tweeds, the argyle knits, the charming cardigans, the man-styled essence of Chanel all came from Scotland and the time that Coco spent there with her lover the Duke of Westminster. But the fashion show’s venue was Linlithgow Palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots, was born almost seven centuries ago, and her tragic life gave Lagerfeld the perfect opportunity to gloss Chanel’s easy pragmatism with an element of doomed romance. It was a fantastic combination. Maybe that’s because it was kind of personal for the designer. The first French poem he ever learned, at the age of six, was all about Mary. Then there’s that umbilical connection between Scotland and France, which history recognizes as the Grand Alliance. And in Lagerfeld’s team, he had Sam McKnight on hair and Stella Tennant (I miss her so much) on all-round fabulosity. In other words, there was something quintessentially Scottish in the air. “Barbarian romance,” Lagerfeld called it. Linlithgow’s courtyard was lined with flaming braziers, spitting sparks into the snow flurries. Guests made their way up spiral stone stairs to the palace’s great hall and chapel, open to the heavens since marauding Hanoverians torched the building in January 1746. After the show, they made their way back down a labyrinthine wooden construction to dinner in a tented fantasia that had hardened souls gasping with wonder. With impressive ease, Lagerfeld translated the sense of occasion into something that grandly allied Chanel’s original Parisian proportions with Scottish tradition. Picture Stella Tennant in a drop-waisted kilt-pleated coat. But also imagine that kilt in chiffon and lace. And the tartans and tweeds, the Fair Isles and argyles that would have garbed lords and ladies of the glen reconfigured in languid knits and patchwork, layered in swingy jackets, accessorized as delightfully with jewels, feathered hats, flowing scarves, and patterned tights as one could wish from a collection that was created to celebrate the “métiers d’art” of the Chanel ateliers. True, there were a few costume-y moments, in which it looked like the models had slithered straight off a canvas in the National Gallery of Scotland. A final passage of white wool gowns touched with lace and feathers, meanwhile, was an almost operatic exercise in pure technique.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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