Couture Week AW16: Chanel Couture’s Porcelain Dolls

2 min read

For over 30 years, Karl Lagerfeld has consistently taken the grand display of clothing one step further, season after season, by creating a whole world in which to showcase his unequalled designs. He’s renowned not only for his extraordinary skill, but also his incredible attention to detail, regularly crafting fantastical sets to display Chanel’s wares.

We’ve seen him turn his runway into a casino, an airport terminal and a bustling supermarket. Today he’s recreated a classic Parisian Couture Atelier, complete with couturiers’ hand-stitching garments. A sense of romantic nostalgia wafts around the runway as the front row is transported back in time to the glory days of Haute Couture.

The whole runway was staged around a single style of shoe; a regular characteristic we’ve come to both expect and appreciate from Lagerfeld. This season, it’s all about the black, pointed-toe thigh-high boot and there are countless looks to choose from.

Despite the mind-boggling diversity, there’s still enough tweed to restore Chanel to its classical core. The collection remains largely focused on the French label’s signature plaids, but a look as straightforward as a tweed coat over a houndstooth skirt was beautifully reworked with an embroidered lining of fragile flowers.

Playing with longer lengths, Lagerfeld puts a dark Victorian sensibility spin on prairie prettiness. The collection is a pleasant mix of monochrome and (predominantly pink) pastel. There’s a total absence of jewellery and accessories. Think horticultural prints, fitted silhouettes, broderie angalsie and high, square necklines. Tassels and muttonchop sleeves are worn with an air of cool nonchalance that will make this era a fast favourite both on and off the runway.

Seamlessly blending the past with the future, sultry models sashayed down the catwalk in elegant fabrics proudly featuring motifs that are tough to rival in terms of sheer ornateness. Whether an item’s raw-edged, crocheted or ribbon-laced, it’s partnered with ruched, fingerless evening gloves.

The big reveal: trousers and striking jumpsuits that are cut lean through the body, before widening at the leg with a professional cropped hem; all worn under lean, mid-length and masculine jackets. Several cutaway dresses and ensembles also wowed, boasting irregular lengths that result in a backward-tilting hem, layered over calf-length A-line skirts or trousers.

Each model showcased a simple, black bow headband below an extravagant tower of tightly woven curls; something you’d expect from Duchess Georgiana of Devonshire or Queen Marie-Antoinette. Heavy-set eyebrows and triangle-shaped smudged liner set under the eyes, were worn against a somewhat glacial complexion. These fashionable Belles hark back to the 18th Century practice of presenting fashion by means of dressed dolls. Made of wire with porcelain heads, the dolls would wear real jewellery designed to scale by Boucheron, Cartier and Van Cleef.

Despite their arctic beauty, the marionette-inspired style added a certain femininity, softness and French sophistication to the collection. The real mannequins and their wares were packed away in boxes, forgotten in a Paris basement until 1952. Today, Lagerfeld’s real-life figurines took their place and have, once again, ensured French Couture remains dominant. 

Watch Haute Couture Week’s backstage interview with Chanel’s iconic creative director, Karl Lagerfeld. Without the virtuosity of its petites mains working in the secrecy of Chanel’s ateliers, this season’s collection wouldn’t have its unique and incomparable brilliance.