It has been said by many that the late Karl Lagerfeld worked harder and took on more jobs than anyone in fashion. But the one role for which he is best known — and will likely be best remembered — is that as the creative director of Chanel, where he elevated the brand from its place in relative obsolescence to its status today as one of the world's biggest, most powerful luxury brands.
It was inevitable, then, that his absence would be strongly felt at Tuesday's Chanel Fall 2019 presentation, the first since his passing in early February. Walking into the ornate set — this time, a chalet and series of cabins set in snowy mountains — the atmosphere felt charged; not quite melancholy, but certainly there was an anticipation of sadness in the air.
Lagerfeld did not wish to have a public memorial, so the tributes to Chanel's former leader were subtle. Tucked inside the show notes was an illustration by Lagerfeld of himself and the late Coco Chanel, the two people most associated with the brand. "The beat goes on..." was scrawled across the top in Lagerfeld's writing, leaving one to wonder if he left this in preparation for the time of his own passing.
Before the show started, an announcement was made in both French and English asking for a minute of silence; at the end of that minute, the intercom system played audio from an interview with Lagerfeld, speaking of design and remembering that someone once told him, in English, that his sets were "like walking in a painting." Then Cara Delevingne opened the show, a fitting choice considering her close relationship with the late Lagerfeld. A surprise on the runway was Penelope Cruz, the most recent face of Chanel, who took a turn in an all-white look holding a single white rose in the designer's memory.
As was the case at Fendi in Milan, David Bowie's "Heroes" played as the models prepared for their final turn down the catwalk. Leading the finale charge were some of Lagerfeld's muses and friends, like Delevingne, Cat McNeil and Mariacarla Boscono, who could not hold back their tears. Of course, Delevingne being Delevingne, turned her sadness into joy, bursting into a small, celebratory cheer at the end of the runway.
It was an emotional moment for many in the audience, too; when the final model walked past, Anna Wintour herself stood to incite a standing ovation, which lasted several minutes. No one came out to take a final bow on behalf of the team, marking Lagerfeld's absence even more profoundly. People lingered long after the show finished, and front-row guests like Caroline de Maigret, Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer were left in tears.
As for the clothes themselves, Lagerfeld went out on a very high note. The Fall 2019 collection opened with black, white and tan tweeds in menswear plaids and houndstooth prints on high-waisted, wide-legged pants; long, loose coats; wide-brimmed hats and chain-strapped bags alike. Frilled chiffon and silk blouses added a layer of lightness to the heavy fabrics.
Beautiful, plush knits in Fair Isle patterns and stripes were used for sweaters, midi-length skirts and cardigans, sometimes all at once. Later in the show, the neutral palette gave way to bright fuchsias, deep teals and dark-orange shades, as well as a clever print featuring Chanel skiers on floaty dresses and slope-worthy body suits. (The intarsia snowflakes, too, featured the number "5" worked in.)
The novelty bag du jour is a clutch shaped like a Gondola ski lift, complete with fogged-up windows; other bags, like backpacks and fanny packs, featured furry panels and knit bases. Crepe-soled wedges and shearling-lined boots made for practical snow gear, and embellished neckerchiefs and heart-shaped earrings provided a feminine counterpart to all of the menswear influence. The super-trendy hair accessory isn't going anywhere for Fall 2019, this time taking shape as a bow clip anchored by a giant camellia.
At the end came heavy capes, patent-leather pants and jumpsuits and a black sequined top, leading into a section of angelic white garments. There were puffer jackets and vests, suiting and more high-waisted pants for day, while the eveningwear included feathery and furry skirts and metallic snowflake embellishments.
It is hard to imagine Chanel without Lagerfeld, though the show notes indicate that the collection was designed by himself and Virginie Viard, his chosen replacement who now has rather large shoes to fill. Today was the last time many of us will have the chance to mourn the loss of Lagerfeld, to celebrate his life and his work, and certainly it is worth taking the time to memorialize such a talented designer. It was a special moment that many in the audience are unlikely to ever forget.
But Lagerfeld himself detested living in the past and never looked back, even on his own work, and so, too, must we all move forward into Chanel's brave new world with Viard. After all, "the beat goes on...."