Chanel Cruise: The new Venus de la Mode
There were two major cruises in Paris on Wednesday: Chanel Cruise and Tom Cruise. No prize for guessing which was the more beautiful. Karl Lagerfeld had already telegraphed his theme with a gray and white invite. Its cover: a Greco-Roman statue of Venus, from Gabrielle Chanel’s own apartment on rue Cambon. Across town, Tom Cruise was busy shooting the latest Mission Impossible.
Modern beauties walked the catwalk of the intimate Chanel cruise 2017/2018 show entitled La Modernité de l’Antiquité, or The Modernity of Antiquity. Staged in the Galerie Courbe of the Grand Palais, the set was based loosely on the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, with huge fluted columns, olive trees, sweeping views of sunset islands and even an archeologist’s scaffolding.
Before which marched leggy demi-gods in Grecian mini dresses done in tweed or ecru crochet wools; all in the dusty hues of Greece - amphora, parchment, sand and sun baked stone. Slinky cocktails in the geometric patterns of Boeotian vases; or splendid faux gold and crystal breastplates recalling the maenads, the female followers of the Dionysus, god of grape harvest and winemaking. Homeric heroines all.
“I’m expressing through fashion a fascination I’ve had since childhood. The first book I read was Homer,” Lagerfeld explained in his program notes.
Back in 1922, Jean Cocteau entrusted Coco Chanel to create the costumes for his version of the Greek tragedy Antigone, with décor by Pablo Picasso. Though Coco’s Ancient Greece was far more covered up that of Karl – many of whose models had bare arms covered in golden bands in the shape of serpents, their heads wrapped by golden metal acanthus leaves or woven silk bands. From the shoes with Ionic column heels and Ancient Greek sandals with centurion’s straps to a brilliant series of bracelets in gold and Aegean blue - all ideal accessories for a latter-day Aphrodite.
“So amazingly pretty,” enthused Ellie Bamber, sitting front row. The UK actress, who starred in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, is off to Tokyo shortly with Chanel when the house latest Métiers d'Art collection in Japan.
A first inkling that Lagerfeld might one day take inspiration from Ancient Greece dates back to 2014, with the exhibition Modern Mythology in Hamburg’s Kunsthalle, where his photography was shown alongside paintings by German Romantic painter Anselm Feuerbach. The designer shot a series of large-format photos in black-and-white of mythical Greek lovers printed on silver and gold fabric.
Botticelli famously painted Venus as a naked redhead, her tresses ensuring her modesty standing on a giant shell; Jean-Louis David portrayed her disarming the god of war Mars by her sheer beauty. Lagerfeld, artist that he ultimately is, envisions Venus as an active, independent character – a pure expression of feminine beauty. “The criteria of beauty in ancient, then classical, Greece still holds true. There have never been more beautiful representations of women… It is really about the youth of the world in all its power and unpredictability – just like the unforgiving gods,” opined this philosopher-designer.
Across Paris, on the wet streets outside the Bourse, Tom Cruise was busy in a motorbike chase; while inside the Grand Palais, Mars was pursuing Venus. Though in this case the mini Mars was Lagerfeld’s “grandson” Hudson Kroenig, in a shepherd’s sweater and fluted-column hold-all bag. With whom the German designer took his bow before the audience of 380, smiling proudly before disappearing into a closed backstage.
“Happy is he whom the muses love,” wrote the Greek poet Hesio, and few designers are more loved by their muses than Lagerfeld.
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