x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Chanel supremo embarks on a faux Indian summer

Fashion Talk Karl Lagerfeld turns his attention to India - or his idea of it, anyway.

When Karl Lagerfeld speaks, the fashion world listens. Despite being almost as famous for his lack of diplomacy as he is at spotting/starting trends, no one comes close to the Chanel designer when it comes to sensing the mood of the moment, and delivering.

There is quite a bit not to like about the white-haired, pony-tailed guru who underwent diet and subsequent drastic surgery to get skinny so he could wear Hedi Slimane's Dior menswear.

He is the proverbial nasty fashion persona, who once caused outrage by ranting against fat mothers "with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models cause anorexia …"

Other Karl-isms include likening his signature darker-than-dark sunglasses to a "burqa" and calling the late, great Yves Saint Laurent "provincial".

But there's no denying the effect this man has had on the way we dress.

The most obvious is the idea of wearing jeans with everything, not least a Chanel jacket. He continues to tear down barriers, defining casual or what is appropriate for evening wear and contemporary fashion.

With Lagerfeld, it's not so much about reinventing the wheel in terms of actual items of clothing, or even hemlines (although he has triggered these to rise and fall a few times), it's the bigger picture: he tells us not just what but how to wear things. Back in the 1980s he introduced "street wear" to the catwalks. The first "designer" leather biker jackets appeared on the Chanel runway. He remains one of a handful of designers who steer the path of fashion. Watch him and you can't go wrong. Interestingly, despite inheriting a brand founded in 1910, he is one of the few designers who refuse to revisit the past.

He echoes Coco Chanel's adage about fashion being about looking forward, never back. However, of late he has become partial to bringing in influences from other cultures or countries - especially those boasting an emerging economy.

Most recently, Lagerfeld has honed in on China and Russia for his spectacular collection Métier d'art, which morphs fantastically expensive haute couture (jackets costing upwards of Dh114,427) with ready to wear (Dh8,500) and showcases the seven or so artisan houses now owned by Chanel.

In his pre-autumn Métier d'art show (due to arrive in shops around August 2012) he turned his focus to India.

But of course he did.

India is tipped to become the third-largest economy after China and the US. This year, sales of Porsche cars there leapt 57 per cent. Millionaires are on the rise and brands such as Chanel, Burberry and Hermès are competing for their custom.

Called the Paris/Bombay collection, and on purpose ("That's what the French call it", he told journalists who referred to "Mumbai"), Lagerfeld added truthfully that he had never visited India himself.

A ruse, I felt, in order for him to fantasise about what modern India, as well as historical India, with its exotic, twinkling fabrics and gold jewellery, is through the prism of fashion.

How else could he get away with mixing traditional shapes such as the sari, churidar trousers and Nehru jacket, with Indian-style embroidery carried out in Parisian workrooms?

Lagerfeld's distinctly French take on modern India was not lost on the country's media. The Hindustan Times cynically admired his attempt to woo the wealthy Indian lady without going down the Bollywood-bling route.

Ultimately, the mix of the genuine and what the 77-year-old guru sees as Indian is unique and will have an effect on fashion as a result.

Will 2012 be a year-long Indian summer? Expect to see teenagers adopting the heavy kohl eyeliner, bindis and nose rings worn by models on the Paris/Bombay catwalk, possibly even the real thing bought in markets globally.

By keeping colour, something India is renowned for, confined to the state of Rajasthan (with lots of pinks, creams and red), instead choosing to mix in embroidery, brocades, paisley, velvet, with diaphanous gilded lace, there was a delicacy that could work in an urban setting. (Although a stylist friend has told me she is about to do a fashion shoot inspired by Karl's new range. The working title is "Princess Margaret, circa 1968, going to a chic Indian dress-up party while holidaying on the island of Mustique".)

By choosing India, a country not just famous for handicrafts but also the imbalance of poverty and superwealth, he has equally nailed a theme the whole world faces.

Surely, the biggest fashion trend is the success of luxury labels in emerging markets such as China … and India.

As ever, Lagerfeld had a typically outspoken reply to journalists who fired questions about whether this lavish collection was suitable, given the backdrop of tough times.

He was inspired by India because in India, "even poor women own three gold bracelets". Touché.

artslife@thenational.ae