5 things we loved from Karl Lagerfeld's final Chanel collection for fall/winter 2019
What we'll miss most
And just like that, the runway show for Karl Lagerfeld's final Chanel collection has come and gone. Over the course of 36 years, the German-born designer worked tirelessly to burn his (and the house of Chanel's) image into the public consciousness — and he more than succeeded. Lagerfeld's Chanel legacy will endure, but future fashion weeks may just be a tiny bit less exciting without his outsized presence; with that in mind, here are the things we'll most miss from the Kaiser's reign, through the lens of his final, fashionable outing.
1. The on-the-noseness of it all...
Season after season, Lagerfeld's breathtaking runway sets served as good indicators of a collection's core theme, although it's not as if anyone really needed clues. If good ol' Karl was doing a Russian-inspired collection (pre-fall 2009, in case you were wondering), for example, you could reliably expect fur hats, nesting dolls and St Basil's Cathedral motifs.
Fall/winter 2019's alpine outing saw a delightfully straightforward print of skiiers casting long shadows on snow, with what looked like CC logo-shaped ski lifts hovering above them. Anyone old enough to recall the early days of home internet may have been reminded of SkiFree, the by-now primitive 1991 computer game by Microsoft. Nostalgia!
2. ...Especially those uber-collectible bags.
Sure, the occasional Chanel shoe — spring/summer 2009's revolver-heel pairs spring to mind — or item of jewellery stole the catwalk spotlight. By and large, however, the lion's share of the glory went to the novelty bags, which variously took the shape of lifebuoys, Russian nesting dolls, hula hoops, Rue Cambon shopping bags and seashells. They're quite possibly the most valuable pieces of vintage Chanel out there, in terms of both rarity and surprise; a perfume bottle-shaped example, for context, is currently selling on 1stDibs for a five-figure sum.
Kitschy or cute fashions — as these bags clearly are — tend to be frowned upon as a lazy exercise in research and design. No such accusations could ever be leveled at Lagerfeld, though, because his love of playful imagery was matched by...
3. His incredible, classically 360° design sense.
Behind the gimmicks, here was a maker of clothes with real substance. Lagerfeld, like so many of his generation, was born into a world where the pursuit of manicured perfection still ruled supreme. The harmony of proportions and line found in fall/winter 2019 look #37, for example, belongs to a bygone era; its rounded shoulders pleasingly echo the curves of the shawl collar, neckline, pockets, hem and mock outer layer — every element is just so.
Coming from most other designers, such a look could have easily read as precious or fussy; but coming from a creator who possessed both traditional savoir-faire and an understanding of the postmodern love of "off-ness", it was utter perfection. Lagerfeld was truly the last of a generation, and with him we have lost an entire philosophy of cut and manufacture. Elements of it will survive and evolve, thank heavens, but the Golden Age of Couture as it truly was in the 20th century has finally ended.
4. His irreverent attitude towards Coco Chanel the icon.
Fashion people love superlatives. Karl Lagerfeld did not. While fashion historians, press and Chanel itself hardly think twice of painting Gabrielle Chanel as a superpowered demigoddess of fashion (she freed womankind's hands by giving bags straps! She freed women from girdles! She invented the colour black!), Lagerfeld just saw her as a woman.
During his early Chanel period, the forward-looking designer was not shy about discussing Coco's slump into irrelevancy in the postwar years; age — and plenty of media coaching, presumably — softened his position somewhat, but his earthbound vision of Coco Chanel persisted. One suspects that, as a fellow enfant terrible (those Adele comments!), he was probably the only person to truly understand her humanity, flaws and all. The appearance of an ensemble much like those favoured by Mademoiselle in the 30s attested to that.
5. His singular force of personality.
We'd like to think that this look was Karl being present in spirit. The resemblance is uncanny, no?