Nobody knows what will happen to Karl Lagerfeld’s symphony of books – old, new and played out in various languages and different locations.
But in the first Chanel couture show without the late designer at the helm, a library marked the handover to his long term assistant Virginie Viard.
A vast circle of books like an ancient library cocooned the Grand Palais, Chanel’s favoured show space. And even if the books way up by the glass dome were fakes, like a stage set, there were enough copies from Karl’s gallery to suggest a background similar to his own studio on the Paris Left Bank.
“It is a mix of books in Coco Chanel’s apartment and Galignani,” said Virginie, referring to a favoured Paris bookshop – not least for Karl.
The designer was surrounded by ‘team Karl’ as it was known until his death in February. They cheered their new leader on enthusiastically.
The main thing about the show was that it was reduced to its essence: beautifully made and perfectly cut tailoring with more bright colour than usual.
To underscore the concept of bookish young women – even though that idea has been used persistently by Gucci – the models seem to have stepped down from their tidy, lady-like shoes into footwear with a more slouchy effect.
Wisely, for a winter couture season, the designer had plenty of coats – starting with a floor-sweeping length with a line of buttons, mostly single, straight as a die from neck to knees.
A green tweed all-in-one suggested a sporty influence that never quite materialised – although the look came again with a slim line of check.
For all Chanel’s global reach and the twists and turns in Karl’s tenure, this brand could only be described as a French classic. Virginie held to those tenets, adding tiny surprises with a frilly ruffle and wrists, or a cut away at the shoulders.
There was nothing timid about this collection. It had the familiar Chanel trope but a small change to the overall look by offering a flowing curve to a jacket and few accessories – apart from the eyeglasses. Perhaps they will join skiing and beach clothes recently introduced in ready-to-wear.
There was, of course, no madness – which would have felt inappropriate at not even six months since Karl passed away. So the show was quiet and polite – just like in a library.
The evening clothes had a covered up elegance – say a velvet coat or the final tiered pastel coat, its layers decorated with feathers.
At the ending, to warm applause, Virginie appeared in a black T-shirt and patterned Chanel marked trousers with matching boots. She stood on the first floor up the mighty swoop of this ‘library’. That seemed like a symbol of a designer on the right path – but with a long way to climb up to a fresh, new world.