Chanel’s pre-season collections are a wonder. They seem to be bigger, and better, than the regular collections. When I say bigger, I don’t mean in numerical terms as, in typical Karl manner, there are around 80 looks per show: I mean that they are, oddly, more important. The pre-collections are stooped history and meaning, usually something related to the house’s DNA, and come with their own short film – directed by Karl Lagerfeld himself, obviously – a feat that the regular shows are not afforded.
The whole idea of the pre-season collections are to travel to a place and design the collection around that location. In the past, shows have been held in, among other places, Texas (you will remember the cowboy boots which were brilliant and the Native American headdresses which were… not good, offensive and not very tasteful), Bombay (well Mumbai, but the collection was called Paris-Bombay), and Edinburgh. One of the most important things about the Metiers d’Art collections is the fact that they honour the craftsmanship that the artisan partners bring to the regular collections: this is their time to shine. For this reason, the clothes shown here can seem even better than the ones shown on the runway. They are more embellished, more extravagant, more detailed. Or at least that is what I think.
Now you may be wondering what I mean by the “artisan partners“, until about a year ago I had literally no idea. The artisan partners, Chanel has 11, are separate ateliers that work on Chanel collections. Each of them produce unique parts of the highest quality. In the 90s, Chanel began obtaining workshops, based in Europe, to counteract the manufacturing that was going on in Asia. They want their collections to be of the highest quality possible with the most skilled workers. They also want to help prolong the couture industry which is, sadly, sure to be gone within the next century. The art of couture is a dying one and the skills that are needed to produce the utmost quality of work are rarely taught at fashion schools nowadays when the focus is firmly on ready-to-wear. The ateliers, reportedly, take on interns from top French fashion schools to train them up in the art. Since 2002, when the Metiers d’Art collections began, the artisans’ work has been showcased specifically in these collections. Each collection has a theme and honours the exceptional craft and accomplishment by the artisans. That is not to say that their work is not used all throughout the year though, as they produce all of the collections: the Metiers d’Art just highlights them.
The eleven ateliers all produce different things. There is Desrues, the costume jeweller and button -maker that employs around 100 and seemingly produces around 4000 button per day (think of the gilded double C’s). Secondly, there is Lemarié who make feathers and fabric flowers and have worked with many well-known couturiers like Christian Dior and Christian Lacroix. Thirdly, Massaro is the boot maker. They produce all of the, well, boots and shoes, and basically anything footwear oriented. Next up is Maison Michel, the hat maker. They produce the headwear, so think veils, berets, fedoras – anything that you would wear on your head – if it is Chanel – they have made it. Fifth is Lesage who does the embroidery. I think this is what people imagine when they think of couture: beautiful and intricate embroidery. Fun fact: they have their own embroidery school, opened in 1992, so if you want to learn the craft where would be better? Goosens is the official goldsmith and jeweller. They create the fine jewellery and the gold chains and gemstones that you see in a typical Chanel collection. Guillet makes corsages and artificial flowers. Montex is another embroiderer, albeit younger than Lesage but equally as skilled. Causse, the second newest addition that was acquired in 2012, is the glove-maker. Soon after came Barrie Knitwear, a Scottish company that Chanel saved from closure shortly before their Metiers d’Art collection of 2012 held in Edinburgh. Finally, the newest atelier, is Lognon, who are in charge of pleats. As you can see, the skills of each atelier are different from each other (apart from the two embroiderers who both do the same trade but different jobs) and all of them are essential in the creation of a Chanel collection. The Metiers d’Art is the time for all the work that goes on behind the scenes to be acknowledged.
GALLERY OF MY FAVOURITE LOOKS FROM THE SHOW
For this Metiers d’Art collection, everybody travelled to Salzburg in Austria. Going back to the house DNA, Austria is a huge part of it as Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel travelled there and found inspiration for the infamous Chanel jacket from a lift-boy’s uniform. This scene is played out in the short film, entitled “Reincarnation” which went along with the collection. The film starred Pharrell Williams as the lift-boy and Emperor Franz Joseph I. Cara Delevingne who played a worker at the hotel by day and a painting of Empress Elisabeth of Austria come to life at night time: she sung and she danced in the darkness and wreaked havoc in the hotel throughout the day. The film was just 7 minutes long but was actually wholly enjoyable, much like a lot of what Karl has done in the past. The films that accompany the collections are often just as exciting as the clothes themselves: they help to contextualise them. Historical references usually go over my head but with the short film in place to make it seem more current and altogether more exciting, it is much easier to pick up on.
History aside and moving into the present, the collection was divine. It had all of the opulence expected of a Chanel collection with a fairytale-esque twist that made it all the more exciting. It is hard to not be moved when you see the beautiful setting. Austria feels like a living fairytale: when I think of it, I see forests and castles and grand old houses – it helps that they have a historical system of nobility. Now there were 85 looks: pretty massive for what is essentially a pre-fall collection. The show consisted of both menswear and womenswear, the menswear being worn by Karl’s favourite Baptiste and a few others. Lara Stone opened the show and Cara Delevingne closed it, something unsurprising considering her participation in the film.
The clothes themselves with, for the most part, stunning. Many were slightly more wearable than a regular Chanel collection and lots of the piece s you could actually see working in daily life. There was a slight outdoorsy feel to the first 20 or so looks, gradually getting more and more eveningwear as the show progressed. The embroidery and embellishments on some of the pieces were simply stunning and almost brought tears to my eyes. As usual, there were a few looks that were slightly hideous but that doesn’t cancel out the fact that the majority of this collection was not. A lot of people like to discredit Karl’s work as of late and say that he has fallen off. Whilst fashion is a very subjective matter, I think it is unfair to be calling for his retirement when he clearly has so much still to offer. This collection, and perhaps the past two collections for Chanel (RTW & Couture) demonstrate this. I am a massive Lagerfeld fan and I have been since I was young. Karl, I’d say, is the person who made me fall in love with fashion. Only since that moment has my interest developed and my horizons expanded. For that reason, Karl always will hold a dear place in my heart, even though we are unlikely to ever meet. Maybe for that reason I will always rate his work highly? I don’t know. I do know that he does make some really fucking ugly clothes, I am not blind to that. However, he makes up for that by creating some of the most beautiful clothes also. He is a man of paradoxes, both personally and professionally. All I can say is this: Metiers d’Art Paris – Salzburg was a success.
GALLERY OF THE VENUE