The main inspiration for the exhibition "Manus x Machina" at New York's Met Museum was, as stated by its curator Andrew Bolton, a wedding dress made by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel's A/W 2014 Haute Couture collection, that seemed to combine hand-made and machine-made techniques. In that case the design on the train of the wedding dress was hand-sketched, then it was computer manipulated to give the appearance of a pixelated baroque pattern. Painted by hand, it was then transfer printed by machine with rhinestones, then embroidered by hand with pearls and gemstones.
That design is a bit like the embodiment of Karl Lagerfeld's dichotomic approach to Chanel's collections, suspended between a genuine love for the work of les petites mains and his obsession with digital technologies (according to some sources, even his beloved cat Choupette has got an iPad…) and the future.
The latter became his main preoccupation for Chanel's S/S 2017 collection: the set at the Grand Palais was turned into a huge data storage centre with computer processors complete with blinking lights and colourful cabling (the invitation to the show was a clue since it featured the brand's double C logo made from colourful modem cables), forming ordered aisles through which the models passed.
The show opened with two models in black and white classic Chanel tweed suits but wearing Daft Punk-like helmets, robotic boots and gloves.
These two chic Stormtrooper Cocos led the way to a series of young models in short skirts, bomber jackets, cardigans, pant suits, and chiffon sundresses and gowns printed in visually striking neon coloured beams.
Accessories included chunky medallion necklaces, irreverent flat brim caps tilted sideways and pumps with ankle coverings for that final robotic effect.
The clothes were classic Chanel but this time the surface of the tweeds had been tinkered with to resemble pixels or a tapestry created by a myriad of cables, while the buttons looked like metal grids. These elements introduced the main inspirations – computers, technology and the digital world in general.
There was also a jacket covered in a beaded embroidery that mimicked a circuit board – an inspiration that was actually already used in fashion in the past (remember Alexander McQueen's 1999 collection for Givenchy?) . Chanel bags were also reinvented: the leather ones incorporated LED lights (a match with Chanel's S/S 16 LED platform shoes...), while other handbags came in the shape of black robots.
Among the notable accessories there were multi-coloured gloves-cum-rubber bracelets that looked as if they were assembled with the insides of coloured Ethernet cables.
There was a retro mood in the skewed baseball caps, the low side ponytails with logo elastics (yes, they will be a trend and possibly the only product - if they will ever produce it - that won't make fashionistas bankrupt…) and the large medallions (that looked like passes attached to lanyards) reeked of a retro '80s mood, while the lace-trimmed silk pink underwear peeping from the brightly coloured designs hinted at the main theme of the collection, dubbed by Lagerfeld "Intimate Technology".
In this case Lagerfeld's vision of the future was steeped in the past codes programmed by Coco Chanel. This caused what could be technically defined "single points of failure" at Chanel's data center.
Retrofuturism may indeed be cool (isn't Nintendo bringing back the NES in November?), but in this case it ended up giving a cold and static mood to the collection that didn't sadly include any interesting experiments with innovative techniques for what regarded fabrics and textiles.
Indeed, in this digital disruption that in which pink shades prevailed, there was almost no magic, but a clear will to try and keep up with the latest technological developments without actually making the effort to take the discourse further. This is actually rather strange considering that Chanel's A/W 2015 Haute Couture collection featured pieces that were 3-D printed using Selected Laser Sintering.
Yet this time Lagerfeld opted for a rather literal and superficial interpretation of technology, reading it as set or reducing it to robot-shaped bags, colourful cable like elements and LED lights.
At Chanel, instead, the iconic designs from the fashion house were remixed into a trendy future with some LED added for the happiness of younger consumers (who, Lagerfeld assumes, will be wealthy enough to buy a pixelated tweed suit by Chanel rather than a cheap jacket from the High Street…).
The hidden message? Well, one was rather disquieting: the Coco-bots were less reassuring than the gynoids Lagerfeld had in mind for his Metropolis inspired A/W 2011 Haute Couture collection.
The anonymous CC branded robots introduced indeed a dystopian future of fashion homologation populated not by real and empowered women, but by silent Coco cynoids in what could easily be described as fashion fascist uniforms. Food for thought, food for thought.