For Chanel’s latest Métiers d’Art collection, Karl Lagerfeld returned to his home town of Hamburg to present a magical meld of fashion, music and maritime history
Stories of the sea: Chanel presents maritime-inspired Métiers d’Art collection in Hamburg
Rumours swirled in the run-up to the show that it might be Karl Lagerfeld’s last. Certainly, it would have been a fitting send-off. Chanel’s Métiers d’Art collections are the ultimate celebration of craftsmanship – an homage to the artisanal ateliers that bring Lagerfeld’s most intricate and outlandish creations to life – and they are unveiled in different locations around the world, completely independently of the traditional show calendar. Last year’s Métiers d’Art collection was presented at the legendary Ritz in Paris, while previous shows have taken place in Rome, Salzburg, Dallas, Edinburgh and Mumbai. But this year’s location, Hamburg, Lagerfeld’s hometown, felt like it was steeped in significance.
In truth, it was the venue, as much as the city, that inspired Lagerfeld to present his Paris-Hamburg collection here. Ultimately, it was architecture, rather than nostalgia, that brought us all to the banks of the river Elbe. The Elbphilharmonie (I tumble over the pronunciation until someone breaks it down for me; it is an amalgamation of the name of the river and the German word for philharmonic, although local Hamburgers affectionately refer to it as “Elphie”) was officially opened earlier this year after a prolonged construction period. While the first stone was laid in 2007, the first official concert was not hosted here until January 11, 2017. Nonetheless, Lagerfeld knew early on that he would use the venue as a backdrop for one of his shows. “I got the idea the first time I saw the Elbphilharmonie. When I saw the construction site and the plans,” he told the DPA news agency.
The sheer audacity of the structure astounds. It was conceived by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and is a bold, unapologetic fusion of the old and the new. Its base is the Kaispeicher, the largest warehouse on Hamburg’s waterfront, which dates back to 1875 and served as a store for cocoa, tobacco and tea for the best part of a century. The old red-brick warehouse is now crowned by an unashamedly modern structure that mimics the crest of glistening wave, taking the height of the building up to an imposing 110 metres. In the way that it melds the historic with the contemporary, without forcing either to compromise on its aesthetic integrity, the structure could well be seen as a reflection of Chanel’s own aesthetic approach.
As we pull up outside the Elbphilharmonie on the evening of December 6, we are greeted with Hamburg’s infamous winds, which blow straight off the water in icy gusts. We step into the building’s red-brick entrance and begin our journey into the venue’s inner sanctum on an escalator that curves slowly and majestically upward. After navigating countless flights of wooden stairs, we break into the light-filled environs of Elbphilharmonie’s grand hall, an incandescent, ivory-hued cave fitted with over 10,000 acoustic panels that create a textured, coral-like effect on the walls.
The 1,000-plus members of the audience take their seats as the orchestra sets up on stage. A statuesque Tilda Swinton, dressed all in white to match her trademark shock of white-blond hair, waves at Edward Enninful, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, who is seated on a level above her. Kristen Stewart is photographed with a slightly gauche-looking Lily-Rose Depp, before taking a seat in the front row next to German actor Lars Eidinger, who juxtaposes scuffed trainers and a grey beanie hat with a black tweed jacket.
Celebrated cellist, composer and producer Oliver Coates leads the Resonanz ensemble through a stirring score created specifically for the show. Models descend from the upper levels of the concert hall, weaving their way downward until they reach the stage. The opening looks set the tone, as oversized cable knit jumpers in sober hues of navy blue are paired with thigh-high, woollen leg warmers, topped with traditional Breton hats – which will prove to be the one constant that runs through the show.
Handsome sailor boys decked in designer stubble follow in wide-legged trousers and thick jumpers – one holds a pipe and has an oversized duffel slung nonchalantly over his shoulder. He is preceded by Lagerfeld’s adolescent, cherubic looking godson, Hudson Kroenig, who can’t contain his grins as he takes yet another turn on a Chanel runway. The collection is a tribute to Hamburg’s seafaring traditions and sees Lagerfeld re-appropriating and repurposing the outfits of the city’s sailors. There are those jaunty Breton hats, which are at times encased in chiffon to give them a high-fashion slant, but also drop-front trousers, which have been widened and come in both long and short versions. With a flared cut, the classic Chanel jacket is transformed into a pea coat, while the tweed suit is uplifted with a sailor collar knotted with a regatta scarf. A sober palette of grey, navy blue and beige is interspersed with flashes of gold and red, while woven patterns in hues of orange draw inspiration from the bricks on the buildings that surround Hamburg’s docks.
Stripes, that maritime stalwart, are given a high-gloss makeover in two of the closing looks, as models Kaia Gerber and Anna Ewers don mini dresses emblazoned with stripes fashioned entirely from feathers – each one individually dyed and stitched. Accessories include an oversized duffel that may well become the bag of the season, and a Gabrielle bag that also mimics the hues of Hamburg’s brickwork – but it is the bags shaped like mini shipping containers that steal the show.
The collection is an exercise in artful restraint – and an homage to honest, hardworking materials like tweed, broadcloth, cashmere, flannel and jersey. In trademark Chanel fashion, it is a stunning interplay of the masculine and the feminine and, as is its want, it artfully highlights the exceptional skills of the embroiderers, milliners, featherwork experts and bootmakers that Chanel employs. And, as ever, there are echoes of the house’s indomitable founder, Gabrielle Coco Chanel, who once reimagined the outfits of France’s fishermen – turning their striped tops and wide-legged trouser into essential wear for the modern woman.
The presentation lasts almost 20 minutes – an age in runway terms. “Every Chanel show that I’ve had the opportunity to be present for has felt like more than a showing of garments,” Kristen Stewart comments afterwards. “Every time, it tells a story, not just through the clothes but the environment, the sound of it, the way it is configured.”
As he comes on stage to take his bow, Lagerfeld first makes his way to Coates and pats him on the back. It’s an acknowledgement that the orchestra and, by extension, Elphie herself, were in some ways the real stars of the show. Within the confines of the acoustically-unrivalled concert hall, the marriage of music and high fashion proved to be incredibly moving.
It was King Karl’s great homecoming, not his great farewell. By all accounts, the octogenarian, who has been creative director of Chanel since the early 1980s, is already hard at work on his next haute couture collection.