All-Out Femininity. Chanel SS’2004 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…

Paradox. A mix of severity and frivolity,” said Karl Lagerfeld, explaining his high concept for Chanel’s spring-summer 2004 haute couture. “That’s what modern sexiness is: ambiguity.” Think an impeccable plain jacket contradicted by a frothy-and-flounce skirt, or a cloudy tulle shrug grounded by a plumb line-straight column of black crêpe. Or perhaps a dress cut as sportily as a tank at the top that becomes a trail of extravagant frills by the time it reaches the floor. The last, worn by Liya Kebede and glinting with silver sequins, is an eternal natural for the red carpet. And the feather cape worn by the show’s bride – Alek Wek – was another Hollywood-perfect moment. There was a new sense of restraint in this collection. By rebalancing delicacy with discipline, Lagerfeld put just as much emphasis on defining the Chanel jacket as on all-out femininity. Those jackets – narrow, linear, and undecorated – hit at the top of the hip without a hint of cinch or cling, the better to contrast with a tulle puff of a skirt below. He also flipped the intellectual equation by working upper-body volume in billowing poet blouses paired with something straight and to the knee. Of course, making an elegant withdrawal from overt display is all relative when it comes to the haute couture. Intertwined with Lagerfeld’s play of opposites was the subtle planting of 3 million euros’ worth of spectacular Chanel fine jewelry.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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