Thursday, January 24, 2008

Full Concrete Jacket



Clichéd it may be, but the famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada illustrates how today's haute couture portends tomorrow's Hot Topic. The colors and volume of the Spring 2008 collections will turn up in the local mall, if not in actuality than in spirit. An acid green t-shirt will recall Galliano, a prom dress the volume of LaCroix, a scarf Valentino's watercolors.

Even when the relationship is a remote one, a keen eye will spot the provenance.

The monster concrete jacket that towered over Chanel's Spring 2008 show may one day be remembered as portentous for another reason. It was said that the jacket--a monumental audacity--represented agelessness and endurance. There will always be a Chanel jacket as long as there is a Chanel show. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. It's one of the few things you can count on in this wacky world, a compass by which we gather our surroundings.

The size of the jacket sent a different message: Chanel is poised to take over the world. Not the world as we know it--that world is shrinking like wool in a dryer--but the new world. There's an acronym for this new world: BRIC. In 2003, the word was coined by Goldman Sachs, an investment banking firm whose business it is to anticipate economic trend. By 2050, the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China will have surpassed those of today's wealthiest countries.

In the Spring 2008 show, the giant jacket sent the message that the customers were more important than the couture.

That is not to say that the couture itself wasn't worthy of remark. Chanel has fired a salvo at the youth market and the youth market is firing back. The designs were short and young. There were lots of knees and the awkward poses of teenagers unhappy with having their pictures taken. Flat shoes failed to show the garments to their full potential. Without heels, the models seemed unsure of how to pose their legs and looked as awkward as colts. Dynamism was lost to first-dance gawkiness.

It was all a bit unsettling.

While one expects a clear vision and direction from a collection, the lack of ambiguity here was startling. The old couture clients are a dead or dying breed, their pockets shrinking as those of the BRIC countries grow. The population is exploding; there are now more young than ever before. Someone had to address this, so why not Chanel? Chanel has, after all, an enormous and instant recognizability quotient. Their jacket is probably the most continuously knocked-off item in the world of retail. Aspirational design for today's twelve year old is savvy business. If the Old Guard wants to buy from this collection, they will have to add ten inches to cover up their creaky knees.

Some of the designs were inspired by the shapes and coloration of seashells. What nature intended, Lagerfeld translated into folds and swoops. What nature did not intend (the knees again!), Lagerfeld ignored.

One would not normally expect to find such forward economic prediction in a couture show (where are the rags for the middle class?), but Lagerfeld laid it bare on the world's stage. We have seen the light on the horizon and we are sailing towards it ambivalently. On the beach, amidst the flutes and whorls of the coquilles, Chanel has become a cynosure.

Images: Style.com

14 comments:

susie_bubble said...

I couldn't quite see past the monstrosity of the giant tweed jacket to read into it like you have done. But I enjoyed reading it all the same....

Suzanna Mars said...

SB, it was de trop, wasn't it! The scale of it relative to the size of the models--it really was a terrible and overwhelming set design. But, so full of hubris to be exciting, I thought.

Miss Woo said...

That was a fascinating insight into Chanel couture, I don't know whether to tremble with excitement or fear if (Kaiser?) Karl ever come to rule the world..

bronwyn said...

I have to say that I really loved the collection, very feminine and elegant and I love the colours and textures.

Heather said...

What a comparison! Very true.

Imelda Matt said...

Whilst I don’t believe the Kaiser to be the greatest designer he can detect the winds of change. Most houses spent the first half of this decade focused on the Middle East, but the Kaiser has firmly kept his eye on BRIC. Virtually every second billboard in Moscow is flogging a Chanel related product. As a fella (and a despotic former First Lady) I have an unhealthy obsession with flats, when these gruesome horrors turned in couture I reached for my Chanel pearls and clutched…merde!

Another wunderbar post, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog and I’m still having a little chuckle over the East Gippsland comment you left.

C.J.B. said...

Thanks for linking me!! I love your blog, this post was really great, I love keeping track of the economic news through fashion (it may be dorky but I think the Economist & Vogue are perfect bedfellows).

riz said...

Oh SM, if only I could devote ALL day every day to devouring your brilliant posts, I'd have a wealth of new knowledge!

Anyway, uncanny that we posted about the CC08 show at the same time! Kindred spirits I say. Anyway, I'm doing catch up on your blog. For me the jacket is, as you describe a signifier for the overwhelming market reality that consumers matter...But it is also for me, a testament to the fact of fashion as sheer spectacle. I will do my own post on this shortly...(i hope) :)

Suzanna Mars said...

Riz, we are the great observers; you the academic and I the layman.

Indeed you are right about the spectacle, fashion as production. This is a whole separate topic that could be addressed. This is also tied into brand and marketing. The individual is subjugated to commerce and curtain call.

Hailey said...

Love the flat shoes in these looks! And re: 23, I think she is 29 even. Pigtails generally reserved for under 20. But as always, gotta break the "rules". ;-)

Becky said...

Really fascinating article - I did my own reading of the Chanel couture on my blog (www.fabfrocks.blogspot.com) Even though it's as pseudo-academic and as lightweight as can be (Karl is such a gift to comedy, god bless him) it was fun to delve a little into economic symbolism. I also directed my readers to your doors for some more substantial nourishment.

Great job!

Becky.

Suzanna Mars said...

I followed up on Becky's comment on her own blog. In case people don't click over, I said to watch the handbag and cosmetic collections for more signs of Young Miss Chanel. Deb Chanel.

And I recalled that big debut of the Coco Mademoiselle compact parfum back in the fall, into which Chanel invested heavily (someone correct me if the product was not the compact; it was definitely Coco Mademoiselle, however).

The writing is on the wall. While the jacket was overkill, the strategy is being handled brilliantly.

Libertygirl said...

I disliked it! And, to be honest, whilst I can admire the work of les petits mains, the show didn't set me on fire either. I laughed when I saw your BRIC explanation: I've wrote a piece before Christmas and another last week elsewere on how fashion will change because of the BRIC nations. We're all singing from the same hymn sheet! LLG xx

Suzanna Mars said...

LLG, there was one little pearl gray suit with scalloped skirt that I quite liked. I thought the jacket was reworked brilliantly, although I couldn't see the accompanying skirt working when lengthened too much.