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Wednesday 7 December 2011

Chanel Pre-Fall 2012: Karl Lagerfeld has never been to India but let's just gloss over that, shall we?

Previously on Chanel: Karl Lagerfeld, Lord of the Sea, addresses the proletariat via harp and conch shell.

Chanel's Pre-Fall 2012 collection surprised me on two counts:
  1. While this line is "India-inspired" (instant alarm bells, especially since Karl Lagerfeld has never been to India) it doesn't seem like the creepy cultural appropriation that typically results from this kind of idea. Of course, come 2012 real-time -- as opposed to fashion-time, which operates approximately six months in everyone else's future -- I fully expect to see a whole host of mildly-racist photoshoots in Vogue, Elle, etc. (If this sounds like cynicism, that's because it is. I'll be sure to get back to you in six months if the world of high-end magazine photography has managed to align itself with the cultural mores of the 21st century by then, but I doubt it.)
  2. Against all fashion-world logic, this show is actually more interesting than Chanel' Spring 2012 line, despite the fact that Pre-Fall isn't a "real" season.
Thankfully, Lagerfeld resisted the temptation to give the models an India-inspired setting, restraining himself to an opulent banquet hall including a Chanel-brand miniature railway carrying decanters round and round the central table as the audience gazed on wistfully from afar, tragically decanter-less. I suspect that the audience couldn't see the lower half of the outfits over the top of their banquet tables, but I doubt any of them complained within earshot of Lagerfeld.

The looks ranged from quite obviously India-inspired to classic Chanel designs such as the kind of fitted, boxy skirt-suits that tend to send me to sleep. There were some rather pretty ones this season, but I'm only posting one of them because you know what a skirt suit looks like already, come on:
All catwalk photos from

OK, I lied. Here's a second trad-Chanel suit -- one that's far less chic and military-inspired. Urgh. It looks like something Professor Umbridge would wear in a playful mood. By the way, those aren't fishnets -- they're thick tights with gold fishnet pattern, for those who want to wear gold fishnets with their bobbly suit and (why, though) hot-pink sweater, but don't want chilly knees.

One thing I was impressed with was how warm all the models looked. I always feel that bare-legged models look especially chilly when they're wearing Fall/Pre-Fall designs (ie, anything other than couture gowns or wispy dresses), and white backgrounds like this are always reminiscent snow. Chanel's Spring 2012 show was supposedly ocean-themed, but the entire set was white (of course; it's Lagerfeld) so it looked like the models were all wearing summer dresses to an ice rink. Part of the reason for the unusually comfortable-looking models this season was Lagerfeld's love of rough silk and slightly thicker fabrics for his suits, but mostly it was because many of them sported these legging-boots:
Interesting, although possibly not suitable for every outfit. Also, very difficult to fit correctly, by the looks of them, so I don't know if they'll be catching on in the real world any time soon. I did see quite a lot of this kind of boot on the runways last season, though, to go along with the skirt-over-trousers trend, but thankfully none of Chanel's boots were open-toed (ugh).

Another contributing factor to model-warmth: the wraparound scarves.

Edited to add: A commenter informs me that this garment is based on something called a dhoti: "The way it is tied allows men to preserve their modesty with one length of material, while at the same time allowing for breathing space without the silliness of wearing a skirt. The way it is tied can change depending on the regional style, and on social class (more monies more dhoti to wrap on round)."
Gloves, jacket and clutch bag: undeniably Chanel. Shirt, tasselled necklace, skirt-scarf and hair/makeup: in keeping with the Indian theme. This was one of my favourite outfits from the collection, although I notice that when coupled with other garments (and, I should note, a caucasian model) the gathered fabric around the hips started to look a lot more like a product of neo-hippie urban street styles:
I've totally seen this girl participating in a drum-circle in the Edinburgh Meadows.
The hair and makeup definitely accentuate that in this case, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I'm actually rather a fan of the pile-of-dreadlocks hairstyle, and in conjunction with some of the outfits the combination of dreads and metal accessories gave it an almost Steampunk look.
Karl Lagerfeld is notoriously fat-phobic when it comes to his models, which I find rather surprising considering how many of his Chanel designs are suitable for non-model body types. Chanel designs, particularly suits, look good on older women and don't require the wearer to have a very narrow waist. Also, some of these outfits could be worn by a 90-year-old just as well as they could a woman in her 30s.
This next outfit would be absolutely perfect for the rich and middle-aged, ie Chanel's primary market:
There were 79 looks in all, far more than one expects from a Pre-Fall line. Although considerably more interesting than predicted, there were also a few obvious mistakes. I don't know what this pink dress thinks it's doing lurking amongst the rest of the designs in this show, but it does not belong.
WTF is that? It looks like Primark beachwear crossed with a doily.
And with this new line, Lagerfeld hit a definite wall in terms of his favoured recurring theme of dressing some of the models as himself:
I've seen quite a few outfits like this recently, with a long heavy skirt and button-down shirt, reminiscent of Old West clothing. A little shapeless, but easily workable in real life and warmer than a lot of high-end fashion. However, I really dislike neckties combined with skirts, particularly wide neckties like this. Women in ties: awesome. But only with trousers, and generally a skinny tie. If you're slim (especially if you're a woman), wearing a wide tie means you run the risk of looking oddly miniaturised. Take the model above: the end of her necktie is about 1/3 of the width of her entire waist. Now imagine your father wearing a necktie of the same proportions to his waist. Cartoonish, isn't it? 
Not sure about the headscarf, but this jacket is sleek and wearable. The cut of it looks vaguely South Asian without seeming like a direct riff on Nehru jackets or anything, and the button-spacing is particularly smart. Even though it's got four buttons, they're high and closely-spaced enough that the model doesn't come across as unbending or nebbish when they're all buttoned up. As a rule, though, most jackets should have at least one button left undone.
My favourite outfit of the show. Beautiful and rich without being gaudy, and seamlessly melding the Indian inspiration with the sleek, rectangular sillhouette of the classic Chanel jacket. In my opinon, this outfit is incredibly versatile. Not in the sense that you can wear it to the office and a wedding and a dive bar all in the same day (Because you can't. A wedding, yes. But only to the office if you're P.A. to a countess, and definitely not to anywhere you might encounter dirt.) but because it could actually be worn by pretty much anyone. Given a little tweaking of the pearlescent colouring and beads, this could definitely be a unisex outfit, the coat itself being barely tailored to the female body shape at all. This would have been such a perfect outfit for Andrej Pejic that for a moment, I thought this model was him.


  1. The skirt/scarf thing is a riff off a man's garment: a dhoti. The way it is tied allows men to preserve their modesty with one length of material, while at the same time allowing for breathing space without the silliness of wearing a skirt. The way it is tied can change depending on the regional style, and on social class (more monies more dhoti to wrap on round). Extremely traditional garment, and done rather well to be honest. Though you are right about the white girl dhoti look - not so good, and rather white boy dread as it were.
    And that last outfit, is based on a churidar suit. Though I imagine the trouser part of this one does not have ample room at the butt for squatting.

  2. Wow, this is really interesting for Chanel. I'd like to see Cate Blanchett or SWINTON in that pearl suit and I'd like to know how much of the beading is attached or jewellery.

    And, finally, the Kaiser endorses food - but only as set dressing!

  3. Wow, thanks Claire! It's OK if I edit the post to quote this, right? (I know practically nothing about Indian clothing, as you have clearly guessed.)

  4. regarding the trousers -- yes. i've noticed when trying on salwar kameez that the area around the waist and hips is sewn in a completely different way, but I doubt Lagerfeld would do that at expense to his ultra-slim designs.

  5. cate blanchett in that suit would be kind of expected... i'd like to see orlando bloom wear it. ;)

    one does wonder if the audience was actually allowed to eat the food, or whether it was just painted stone like Elagobalus' dinner parties.

  6. I love your blog and your commentary. Have you studied fashion history?

  7. Ya know, Karl Lagerfeld may not have visited India, but those designs are the most authentically Indian I've seen (I mean in terms of new fashion).

    The tight legging pants are called churidhars, and have only been in fashion for about five years now. (and as another commenter points out, they do tend to have loose seats, otherwise they'd be impossible to wear as the fabric doesn't not stretch even a millimeter!)

    That one you've selected with the heavy skirt and white tie is quite funny, actually, because it's very "school uniform" for Indian girls. (here's hte best example I can find:

  8. Cool! I'm glad to hear that. There's actually a review at Vogue that I read after, and although you have to wade through some fashion journalism to get through it, it seems to say the same thing:

    WRT the tie thing -- those girls look like they're wearing normal school uniform, for a school with old-fashion uniforms? the girls at my own secondary school had to wear shapelesss button-down shirts, pleated skirts or kilts, and ties like this. not really an indian thing as such.

    the shirt/tie thing in this post reminded me mostly of military/police type uniforms like sheriffs or park attendants, actually. especially since i think those can come with a skirt, for dress uniforms?

  9. Thanks! As to studying fashion history -- no. Not formally, at any rate. I'm really interested in fashion and costume history, as you can probably tell, but I studied a completely different topic at university.

  10. definitely. like i said, that pic was only the best example i could find. the shirt/tie/heavy skirt thing is REALLY common with young girls who've entered the workforce. I'll make sure and take a snap next time I'm in Chennai :)

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