Chanel Journeys Back to the 18th Century for Spring 2019 Couture

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Karl Lagerfeld – a titan of the fashion industry, a legend in his own lifetime, and fashion’s most enduring legacy designer – is also a human. At roughly 85 years old (he is notoriously circumspect about his actual birthday), he is still creating not just for Chanel, but also multiple collections for Fendi and his eponymous label at an astonishing rate. But even the gods must rest, right?

At the end of Chanel’s sublime Spring 2019 Couture show, the kaiser was conspicuously absent from his typical crowd-rousing finale walk. In his stead was Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house and Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman. Yet, the haute couture collection that walked the lovely Mediterranean garden inside the Grand Palais spoke to his indefatigable creativity, his endless pursuit of perfecting and expanding the Chanel code, and his bright and brilliant mind. 

Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

For the show, Lagerfeld looked to one of fashion’s and France’s most ostentatious eras: the 18th century. It was a time when the courts of Versailles competed with courts in Spain, Belgium, and Italy in an effort to demonstrate its wealth and prosperity. Each country looked to the other in an effort to outdo displays of wealth. It got a little ridiculous. The skirts of Spanish courtesans grew big, then those in France grew bigger. The hair pieces towered taller and taller, the shoes reached staggering proportions. In fact, France won out by committing wholeheartedly (and with whole coffers) to spending on the most lavish furniture, drapery, decorations, and – of course – fashions.

The man behind the dreamy collection might’ve been physically absent from the finale, but he was spiritually present everywhere you looked.

It’s a meaty origin story that gives way to plenty of inspiration points. Chanel, for its myriad resources, was able to combine this baroque period with a more recent period in history that shared similar tendencies for excess. The style of the 1980s, married to the couture fashions of the 18th century, made for instantly recognizable looks on the Chanel Spring 2019 Couture runway. The tweed display that always starts the show followed lithe, clean lines that skimmed the length of the body, which were further elongated by bouffant, teased hairdos. Volumes grew as the show progressed; shoulders jutted out to rounded points, sleeves bloomed in width, and skirts were tiered, ruffled, and exaggerated. Delicate embellishment, dainty broderie anglaise, and touches of bespoke lace decorated many of the gowns.

While the 1980s were present in the collection, it was the 18th century that undoubtedly had the stronger point of view. Envision Marie Antoinette in simple muslin robes lying about the countryside of her home in Petit Trianon, which later gives way to her in full-hooped panniers, shunning Madame du Barry at court. Lagerfeld effortlessly captured the spirit of the era, and transformed it into an alluring proposition for the Spring 2019 Couture season. The man behind the dreamy collection might’ve been physically absent from the finale, but he was spiritually present everywhere you looked.

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