Le Palace, a former discothèque in the 9th arrondissement, was once Paris’s hottest nightclub. It was also an after-hours spot where you stepped out from behind your socially-approved mask, let your hair down (or donned a basket of dead pigeons as Anna Piaggi once famously did), and truly flaunted your most extreme self.
In the heydays of Le Palace, Karl Lagerfeld was a permanent fixture, always surrounded by fabulous fashion claquers. His presence transformed the nightclub into the place to “see and be seen”, and the nightclub, in turn, transformed him. The brave styles worn by his compatriots influenced his own way of dressing — this was the era of his famous leather musketeer boots (as close to punk as Lagerfeld ever got), and an iconic emblem of the fashion rebellion of the times. Le Palace entrenched itself in his DNA, and the punk references scattered throughout his tenure at Chanel are testament.
The story – as told by the Fall 2020 Couture that aired this afternoon on Chanel.com and its social media accounts in lieu of a physical show – paid homage to this rarefied moment in Lagerfeld’s history. “I was thinking about a punk princess coming out of ‘Le Palace’ at dawn, with a taffeta dress, big hair, feathers and lots of jewelry,” Creative Director Virginie Viard revealed. “This collection is more inspired by Karl Lagerfeld than Gabrielle Chanel. Karl would go to ‘Le Palace’, he would accompany these very sophisticated and very dressed up women, who were very eccentric too.”
But Chanel’s Fall 2020 Couture collection boasts looks that are a far cry from the smoke-smeared, elegantly disheveled revelers of punk’s yesteryear. That’s the elevation that couture inevitably provides. Although a mohawk might be signaled by the placement of feathers in the hair, those feathers derive from Maison Lemarié, and the dark kohl-eyed makeup looks comes at the deft hand of Lucia Pica. This is punk as it is bent and refracted by the prism of haute couture’s most skillful design minds.
I wanted complexity, sophistication.
What we are left with, then, is surprisingly romantic – a memory that has been blurred by nostalgia. What we recall from those long-ago nights is the laughter, the warmth, the beauty of being young and buoyed by the kinetic energy of pure potential. Viard admits that she had Lagerfeld’s world in mind when she created the collection, but she went “ in the opposite direction of what I did last time. I wanted complexity, sophistication.” Adut Akech exemplified this idea in a fuschia tweed shot through with filigreed thread, which layered a skirt over trim trousers. Complexity, sophistication.
Other nostalgic heroines influenced Viard’s work. She recalled noblewomen escaping from 19th century tableaus wearing long dresses in dark velvet and layered chiffons. A virginal maiden is pictured in a white gown etched with diamond braiding and engineered so that the skirt is suspended away from the body in an exaggeration of the female form. Romantic silhouettes in combination with skillful embroidery and a punk-inspired throughline culminate in a collection that exemplifies the best of Chanel’s haute couture techniques.