At Chanel, Revisiting the Past Can Be Revolutionary in Its Own Right

Chanel Pre-Fall ’19

What is to be expected when a fashion show is staged among bricks that once comprised an ancient pyramid of Egypt, held in a city that has comprised a hodgepodge of cultural references and influence, designed by an artist who has spent three and a half decades doing and outdoing his own work? A marriage of past and future to be sure — but who is to say what’s what?

I wrote this down before I got to The Met yesterday, where Chanel would host their 2018 Metiers d’Art show. It is rare that I go backstage in advance of a show but last night, before I saw the clothes, I saw the makeup. Rows of models were seated at booths boasting inspiration images for their faces, which included the very simple skincare combination of a serum and oil as a base layer for the Pallette Essentielle — boasting concealer for their eyes and blush for their cheeks. Each wore a balm that made their pink lips shine as they stood in a row, waiting for Lucia Pica, Chanel’s global creative makeup and color designer, to draw lines above and below their lids. These would infer what was to be expected of the clothes — Egyptian influence to be sure, married to a “futuristic vibe,” Pica called it. A curiosity to see the future, I think. “Ancient, but modern,” she said as she delicately drew these lines in varying shades of black, blue and white over the models’ eyes.

Ancient but modern. A marriage of and respect for heritage as Chanel has come to know and define it, but a curiosity for how we can take it, move it and not necessarily change, but add to it.

I thought about this notion as I left the backstage area and walked to the front of the museum where guests for the show were congregating in swaths of Chanel collections that must have dated back two decades. This is always among my favorite parts of a Chanel show — seeing the way that the archive of Lagerfeld’s work continues to bear the power of its legacy as it wears the vast and various personalities that are chosen to preview his future. And speaking of this future — poised to respect those holding conversations within the public discourse today, Chanel announced on Monday that it will no longer offer exotic skins in its fashion range. “We did it because it’s in the air, but it’s not an air people imposed to us. It’s a free choice,” Karl Lagerfeld told WWD.

Chanel Pre-Fall ’19

On tap among last night’s 85 looks rendered in gold and often tweed but sometimes denim or leather, with flat top hats (no rims), and some literal (but charming!) pyramid-shaped evening bags, was nary a single kerfuffle-stirrer. The opening 11 looks utilized the house’s traditional tweed to enmesh its own story with the past. Midway through the show, purported hieroglyphs in metallics covered bomber jackets, pants and dresses — more 80s in construction but harkening forward and back through small details like a tapered shoulder, or open neckline. Pharrell Williams, who walked in the show, wore gold pants with a matching knit that featured a design akin to that of a fair isle, but delivered entirely in crystals and stones.

The finale maintained more color and several silhouettes I have come to recognize as “Chanel staples.” These, more than anything, remind me that what is new is not always revolutionary. That dressing informed by the past, placed in the context of the present, can tell an interesting story about the future. And honoring, even praising the work you’ve already done by bringing it back to the forefront is, in its own right, a way of moving forward.

Feature image by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images; Runway photos via Vogue Runway.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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