Objectivity is a rare quality in fashion nowadays. This intangible entity went mysteriously missing a long time ago, mainly when it became clear to most fashion houses that journalist/fashion critics and bloggers are to be considered more or less as prostitutes. Invite them to your show, give them some presents and you get a favourable review.
Chanel's Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld knows this pretty well, but, as an added bonus, he also knows how to recreate an entire dream, an illusion that, lasting for enough hours to plunge the above-mentioned fashion critics in a bedazzled state of confusion, prompts them to type on their computer screens only positively magniloquent words.
At least that's what Lagerfeld managed to do on Tuesday night for the Paris/Edinburgh – or, to be more precise, the Paris/Linlithgow - Métiers d'Art catwalk show.
This collection celebrates the work of the “petites mains” (“little hands”), the artisans who spend thousands of hours making pieces of clothing in accordance with the highest craftsmanship standards.
After travelling through time and space to Monte Carlo, Moscow, Shanghai, Byzantium and Bombay for his previous collections, Lagerfeld flew to Scotland with two main excuses: rediscovering Chanel's heritage and showcasing the work of the latest Chanel acquisition, the Hawick-based cashmere mill Barrie.
According to the reports Chanel, a Barrie customer for over 25 years, paid £9.7 million for the mill. In this way the fashion house safeguarded its future and added Barrie to the portfolio of luxury ateliers (currently featuring also glove maker Causse, embroidery makers Montex and Lesage, gold and silversmith Goossens, shoemaker Massaro, hatmaker Michel, feather house Lemarié, button and costume jewellery specialist Desrues and flower house Guillet) owned by Chanel's subsidiary Paraffection.
Rumoured to have spent more than £2million on the show, Lagerfeld hired Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, for his own personal Winter extravaganza, almost to remind us that the world may still be in a crisis, but the fashion industry couldn't care less.
With crowds Chanelspotting along the streets in the hope to see some celebrities connected with the fashion house, namely Brad Pitt, the man behind the most risible Chanel No 5 advertising campaign ever made, and his partner Angelina Jolie, the show started.
Christopher Kane worked hard to give a different perspective of his native country and prove that a talented fashion designer doesn't need to be born in Paris, but can come from all over the world, even from desolate Newarthill, but, unfortunately for him, Lagerfeld only needed roughly 10 minutes to set the clock backwards in time to a mix of fake Scottish history and Disney's The Brave atmospheres - flaming braziers, rugged landscapes, castles and pure baltic weather included (though no face painting – actually, we're quite glad about face painting missing...).
There were two recurring themes remixed in this collection thanks to the skills of Chanel's ateliers and of the newly acquired Barrie: Coco Chanel's affair with the Duke of Westminster in the 1920s and her time spent at the Duke’s Highland retreat dressed in tweeds and cashmere jumpers, and engaging in activities such as riding, hunting, fishing and walking across the moors; Mary Queen of Scots, convicted of treason and decapitated in 1587. A romantic heroine with a tragic fate, Mary Stuart is in the French tradition a woman of culture, beauty and taste (so this could be interpreted also as a link between her and Coco Chanel).
Tweed, plaids, checks and tartans abounded for coats, skirts and men's trousers, matched in some cases with pink tartan scarfes and gloves (not recommended in urban areas densely populated by neds clad in colour blocking tracksuits; even though the pink tartan may prove a safe option if caught in riots of rival football fans such as Celtic-Rangers...).
Knits were obviously the highlight of the night, going from enveloping ones to more elaborate pieces with intarsia motifs, from elegant and subtle argyles to chic and overembellished with appliqued elements, though cashmere reigned supreme.
Lagerfeld also added his personal touch to the kilt and the sporran: he turned the former into peplum jackets and drop-waisted pleated coats, and transformed the latter into a Chanel bag (or was it a Chanel bag that was transformed into a sporran?).
The juxtaposition of knits, tartans and leather coats and the multi-layered textures of oversized plaid motifs on men's jumpers were interesting, even though the skills of the craftspeople behind this collection excelled in the construction of some of the designs.
The sleeves, collars and shoulders in some of the dresses revealed indeed strong connections with the Renaissance and seemed borrowed from the Mary Stuart portraits of François Clouet (View this photo), court painter and author
of drawings, miniature and elaborate designs for enamels and coins.
The romantic reinterpretation of Renaissance dress was very strong in this collection: the complexity of the work, of the materials, textures and patterns was undeniably similar to the complexity of Renaissance clothing, with those velvets decorated with brocade wefts of gold and silver threads typical of the paintings of those times mimicked in this case by colourful tweeds.
The most memorable part of the show was the finale with models donning intricately elaborate hairstyles and dressed in ivory wool or lace designs with stand-up collars and feathers at the shoulders.
Yet there was another way to read the finale: Mary Stuart chose to wear white mourning clothes after the death of her father in law Henri II and after the successive deaths of her mother and her husband (Clouet's works help us again picturing her in our mind dressed in virginal white - View this photo), so rather than bridal white, here we had mourning white.
The collection, that risked at times of becoming a bulimic affair (that is the main risk of all Chanel's Métiers d'Art collections...), was completed by jewels (among them cuff bracelets with thistle motifs), feathered hats, Balmorals and Glengarries, oversized scarves, and geometrically patterned tights.
Mixing the 16th and 17th centuries with sportswear and matching designs with walkable boots was a winner, but at times there were unnecessary cringing moments verging between a representation of Shakespeare's Macbeth and memories of Lady Diana at the Braemar Games circa 1982-83 (View this photo).Drunk on whisky and champagne accompanied by smoked salmon and venison capanés, their minds obnubilated by the Chanel beauty presents in their hotel rooms, the guests sat and watched in approval wrapped in Chanel scarves, probably thinking that Scotland is a land of fairy tales.
Luckily, the guests and the kaiser all missed the worst Scottish fashion exploits of the last ten years, including former Prime Minister Jack McConnell's pinstripe kilt, current Prime Minister Alex Salmond's tartan trousers with matching tie at The Brave premiere in the States, Nicola Sturgeon's horrid sense of style and the unbelievably nightmarish Orange Walks.
The most hilarious thing about the entire event was the Chanel Linlithgow Twitter page, the barrage of tweets by the guests was simply hilarious.
Most of them displayed the enthusiasm of children in an amusement park (this is why presents and dinners should be abolished from fashion shows...let them judge you on what they see, not on what they get) with notable moments of ignorance: somebody called a Highland cow a yak; high profile blogger The Man Repeller proved that yes, style is her thing, but geography and spelling are not her forte (in a Twitter frenzy she called the place “Nillithgow”, thinking maybe that Scotland was a remote Hobbit-like destination for very fashionable characters) while Vogue UK's Fashion Editor Alexandra Shulman tweeted about suddenly craving a pair of tartan trousers (we sincerely hope she sobered up during her trip back to London).
But if tweets were the most hilarious aspect, the most puzzling thing was the reaction of the journalists invited to the show who took a tour of the Barrie facilities.
At the factory they got the chance to follow the production of Chanel’s two-tone cardigans and sweaters. Most of them claimed they were amazed at the fact that it takes hours to make the perfect jumper. This truly makes you wonder how many of them ever saw real artisans at work and how many spoke to the artisans about their, careers, skills and jobs.
It must then be highlighted how the entire “Chanel saves jobs in Scotland” statement that accompanied many articles and features written in October, sounds a bit like “Cruella De Vil saves a Dalmatian dog” (note: other cashmere producers and mills have been "rescued" in previous years, including Pringle, and in some cases such as Braemar and the Innerleithen-based cashmere mills J.J. & H.B. 1788, "rescue" operations meant the sad end of that specific mill).
Yes, Barrie and the other ateliers under the Paraffection umbrella continue to supply both Chanel and other top fashion houses, but when a company buys another company it's usual for profit reasons. Indeed a business group buying a specific company is very rarely interested in merely “saving jobs” for the human cost a job loss implies.
In the Chanel/Barrie case the aim was securing the work of a key supplier that makes expensive and unique garments, so the main point was saving the craft that specific person produces. But that person for them is essentially a redundant object.
In fact if they could sever the hands from the body and have just a pair of hands à la Addams Family doing the job (note: hands severed from a human body rarely complain about their rights and generally do not know what the words trade union mean...), it would be even better for them.
Lagerfeld summed up this concept in a statement you can read in a piece on STV's site in which he said: "Chanel came here, she discovered tweed here and the cashmere. Now we've bought Barrie.” Simple as that, I came, I saw, I bought and I move on while keeping on making money.
You must give him one merit, though: tourism agency VisitScotland has tried for years to repackage and sell the country as a vibrantly cultural place and it more or less miserably failed. Even Disney with its dark and oppressive tale of a stubborn red-haired heroine failed, but Lagerfeld triumphed perfectly managing to draw the attention of the media, with a mix of history, heritage, bulimic chaos and confusion, all used to present a surreally unreal image of Scotland that will hopefully boost visitor numbers and generate some extra business.
Critics - those very few ones left – will probably say it wouldn't have hurt if Lagerfeld had added to the lochs, castles and tartan a bit of urban decadence and radical rebellion.
If only James Kelman's Sammy (from How Late It Was, How Late), and Irvine Welsh's Renton (from the Trainspotting saga) had been invited, there would have been a bit more irony and realism (and probably no Kaiser or Count Karl, but just C*nt Karl...) sprinkled over this perfect picture postcard setting and people would have maybe remembered that Scotland isn't a romantic playground of will-o'-the-wisps and tartan trousers (or isn't just that...), but it's also a country that produced a vibrant independent music scene (just to remind you - see the embedded track, "Mary Queen of Scots" by Eugenius) and many radical writers and thinkers.
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