What A Beach!

It could be an allusion to Biarritz—the seaside town where Coco Chanel opened her first couture house in 1915. If so, the recreation of sand and sea in the Grand Palais was not only clever, but evocative. However, would it not have been better to really stage the show in the Basque coast instead? Or would that have been a tad too Jacquemus? Well, if Karl Lagerfeld can’t go the the beach, bring the beach to him


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Here, in Southeast Asia, many of us are riveted to our news sources for updates on the tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi four days ago. The Chanel show with the girls walking on the make-belief beach in their Chanel finery seemed, in contrast, a little impervious to the misfortunes of others, half-way round the world. Of course, Chanel could not have planned this splashy production by taking into account what they could not have possibly predicted. Still, the disparity between the fantasy evoked in a fashion capitol and the tragedy of an unheard-of coastal town was palpable, leaving us to see that fate and fashion are truly different worlds.

Chanel’s beach-centred collection for next spring/summer could have been La Pausa Part II, La Pausa (also Coco Chanel’s villa in the south of France) being the fake ship that was part of the set for the cruise 2019 collection, shown in May. The thing is, it’s no longer easy to differentiate between the Chanel seasons, not even between the couture and the pret-a-porter, so we remember the characteristic but indistinguishable clothes by the set against which they were shown: the supermarket collection or the airport collection! Provincial perhaps, but not ineffective.

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In fact, the Chanel clothes have been so dependent on the extravagant sets to mean something that one suspects that design matters less than theatrics since the label banks mainly on its house codes to interest their customers and commercial sass to keep them buying. As we watched the girls go by, bare-footed, and over-layered on the seashore with no sea shells, we wondered if Karl Lagerfeld, prolific as he is, has spent too much time dreaming of context than clothes. Which, we found ourselves asking, came first: set or dress?

Maybe it’s dress. Then to make it thematically strong, give it scene-setting context, a beach complete with lifeguards, a diorama that only a powerful fashion house can afford to erect. This is even better than 4K broadcast. You have the lapping sea before you and real sand. All the antiquities in the Louvre can’t top this. Coco herself, in her wildest dreams—and she had some of those, we’re sure—would not have imagine that more than a decade after her Biarritz debut, the sea that she enjoyed would be brought to Paris, in the Grand Palais. Is the water salty and the sand warm, we wondered.

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Few women, of course, enjoy the beach with so much clothes on. All dressed up to go to see the sea? You could call it sea folly if not for the fact that Seafolly is an actual beach wear brand—from Australia. But it would be hard to describe bouclé suits on the sand as anything else. We’re not sure if Coco Chanel ever thought of being suited in bouclé, even summer bouclé, when strolling on the water’s edge, but Mr Lagerfeld has made it, well, a walk on the beach, with the usual boxy shapes in colours as light as see breeze. After 35 years at Chanel, Mr Lagerfeld has perfected the bouclé suit and has offered so many variations for so many occasions that perhaps now is the time for those that can be worn to make sandcastles and pick crabs.

This is his flair: making the unlikeliest of things distinctly possible, not to mention a knack for imbuing otherwise commercial clothes with a vibe that is fashionable. Or, the way the younger set likes it, such as the white shirt Kaia Gerber wore—rather unremarkable if not for the black Chanel branding on the pocket flaps. Or, could this have been a spillover from the Karl X Kaia collab? For a label that sells quite a lot of shoes, it is perhaps against promotional wisdom to let the models go bare-footed, carrying the footwear in their hands, augmenting, instead, the dreams of many women: long walks on the beach, with the soft, warm sand underfoot; a moment of bliss, possibly romance; a retreat from urban bustle, as a piña colada awaits somewhere in the distance. The Thais have a word for women of such inclination and with such love, but it would be too impolite to print it here. Let’s just say she could be the Chanel woman.

Photos: (top) Getty images, (runway) Chanel

Not Better, Not Badder

Demna Gvasalia did not let up as he pushed forth with the old-world and dramatic shapes once associated with Balenciaga, but he appeared to be repeating himself. Or, were we seeing too many all-over-agains to tell the difference?


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What is it about passageways that designers love? (One more would later appear in Louis Vuitton’s presentation in the grounds of the already stunning Louvre.) It would seem that the catwalk, like the clothes, can also be trend-generating. And this season, a long, meandering passageway, first brought to our attention at the Gucci 2017 autumn/winter show, is the way to go. Video software-aided designs projected on walls appear to be on-trend too. Must fashion presentations these days be so immersive an experience that clothes by themselves wouldn’t be enough to engage the viewer? Sure, fashion has always been theatre, but there’s a nagging suspicion that stylistic content is so lacking that we now need visual aids (or distractions?) to augment the clothes. Sounds like the National Day Parade, does it not?

Balenciaga’s tunnel of dizzying, moving graphics designed by Jon Rafman, the Canadian digital artist known for using random Google Street View images for his somewhat bleak online exhibition of photo essays 9-Eyes, maybe awe-inspiring at first, but would, three minutes into the show, proved to be unnecessarily distracting. Did the invitees come to watch a fashion or video show? If the first five identical jacket-dresses were any indication, perhaps Demna Gvasalia was using the clothes as canvas for his personal message/visual noise, rather than the runway as the setting for the clothes. Could the flicking, changing, and disorienting images (including what appeared to be sea water, bringing to mind Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week) be telling us that in confusing times, we need uncomplicated clothes?

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Those suits-dresses (that could possibly double as a topcoat and worn unbuttoned to look less stuffy) shared a similar silhouette to the skirt suits that Mr Gvasalia introduced in his debut for Balenciaga in 2016. Now, however, the models were a lot less hunched forward in them, and the shoulders were a lot wider—being straighter, and a lot stronger—being squarer—literally. This tinkering with traditional tailoring has always been Mr Gvasalia’s strength, especially the skillful silhouette-shifting of at-first-look conservative, even old-fashioned, clothing into shapes that hint at couture, but minus the potential stuffiness.

To be sure, this was not the country-club tailoring for women who adore Ralph Lauren or tai-tai who admire Eleanor Young’s love of Giorgio Armani. It is in this fear-not of angular shoulders, rounded hips (but not constricted), and past-the-knee length that gives Balenciaga jackets, suits, and coats their immense, although man-repelling, pull. This may be be subversive to what constitutes tasteful and feminine tailoring, but it proposes that the tailleur need not be stuck in time or taste. This is not a conscious reaction against street style; this is not even merely re-writing the house codes. This is design, pure and simple.

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In addition to strong shoulders, there are the Balenciaga labels that you can have, perched on them. Labels, for a long time, are not obligated to remain on the inside of the centre-back of a garment. Mr Gvasalia has give them a pride of place where pirates of the past would have placed a faithful parrot. The logo has been a crucial part of Balenciaga’s current success, and the house will not forgo the opportunity to appeal to the post-adolescents who have been instrumental in making it a bastion of cool. So the name repeated all over a fabric seemed like an obvious option, but if you prefer something more fun and knowingly kitsch, there’s always the repeated pattern of the Eiffel Tower. You don’t get more French than that.

What could be touristy motifs aside, the complex cuts and draping ensured that there is nothing quiet about MrGvaslia’s collection. Some people consider these only moderately expressive clothes. And it is understandable when elsewhere, other designers prefer to holler than to hum. But even if the volume wasn’t turned up, it didn’t mean the collection was mute. The shirt-dresses, for example, had the smartness of what some might call office wear, but, with a drape of a sarong on one side, offered another possibility: resort ease. Diane Von Furstenburg could have been cursing that she didn’t think of that.

Photos: (main) Balenciaga live stream/(runway) indigital.tv