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Review: Chanel bids a snowy — and briefly silent — farewell to Karl Lagerfeld

The fall and winter 2019 Chanel runway show at Paris Fashion Week featured the final collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld, who died Feb. 19.
(Christophe Archambault / AFP/Getty Images)

The big question going into Tuesday morning’s Chanel show was how the house would pay homage to Karl Lagerfeld, who held the creative reins at the house from 1982 until his death two weeks ago. The answer: a full minute of silence inside the cavernous Grand Palais, which had been transformed into a snowy mountainside resort.

At the sound of tinkling wind chimes, a handful of Chanel-clad models entered and stood silently at the top of the runway and a voice on the PA system asked for — first in French and then in English — one minute of silence. And there the fashion flock sat, for 60 full seconds, as quiet as church mice, without so much as a cellphone ring tone or text alert to be heard. Then Lagerfeld’s voice filled the hall, speaking in French about building Chanel into the brand it is today. Toward the end, in English, Lagerfeld says: “It is like walking in a painting.”

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to set foot in the wonderment of a Chanel runway set piece knows that feeling well; it’s like stepping to the rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time, with the interior of the glass-roofed exhibition space transformed into awe-inspiring seascapes (complete with water lapping at the sandy shore line), leafy forests, space-rocket launch pads and even humming glass-walled server farms with yards of colorful computer cables arranged just so. The over-the-top production value was one of the designer’s signatures for the house, and it never failed to make the show a Paris Fashion Week highlight.

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So it was this time too: transformed, with no detail spared, into an Alpine ski village complete with mountains in the distance, Chanel skis stuck in faux snowbanks and fake smoke spiraling lazily out of chalet chimneys. And, as the tinkling Philip Glass music on the soundtrack started back up, the village got back to bustling, the models kicking up clouds of fake snow as they walked the runway, presenting the last of the Lagerfeld-era looks.

A sketch of Karl Lagerfeld and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel from the show notes.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

The collection’s color palette was grounded in black, white and gray and opened with an assortment of exploded hound’s-tooth check pieces (the geometric pattern has made a strong showing in Europe this season, appearing on the runways of Dolce & Gabbana and Balmain to name just two), including the long overcoat worn over a black and white windowpane check jumpsuit and matching hat worn by show-opener Cara Delevingne, handbags and a skirt belted with silver and pearl snowflake belt.

More nods to the frosty locale came by way of an allover print of skiers schussing down the slopes (next to Chanel-logo moguls, if we’re not mistaken), which turned up on a range of pieces including ruffled dresses and skirts, one of the latter memorably paired with a fire-engine-red intarsia-knit sweater with the interlocking double-C logo on the front) and Scandinavian-style ski sweaters and sweater dresses.

While most of the collection tended toward the heavy, insulating sort of tweeds that are a mainstay of the label as well as the kind of outerwear pieces so deliciously luxe that well-heeled Angelenos might find themselves unexpectedly hoping for a repeat of the chilly “February to remembrrr” (who doesn’t fancy a thick, insulated cape fit for a snow queen?), the show closed with a quintet of delicate, white “snowball” dresses that were a round puffball of white fur or feathers (or a combination thereof) from waist to mid-thigh. The standout of these was modeled by Penelope Cruz (who was named the face of the house last year) carrying a single white rose.

Speaking of flowers, the looks from the runway collection that did have enough color to get you noticed in the lift line — whole fuchsia or fire-engine-red ensembles — cropped up so sparingly they called to mind those hearty and headstrong Alpine perennials that crack through the ice and snow and begin to throw their color out into the world long before the spring thaw has rolled around.

To me, those are the pieces that truly symbolize the future of the brand that Karl Lagerfeld helmed for the last three decades plus. It may be cold now, and there may be snowdrifts at the chalet door, but there’s a fire burning in the atelier and there’s a spring-summer collection germinating under the surface.

It will burst forth and fill the Grand Palais with color — just as inevitably as snow melts and days grow longer.

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adam.tschorn@latimes.com

For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn


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