Monday, August 16, 2010

A Roll in the Hay With Lagerfeld’s Chanel; Not Your Usual Burlap Sack

Chanel boutique, spring/summer 2010; jacket in neutral patchwork, wooden clogs, linen bag; Chanel photo

In an interview after the presentation of the Chanel Spring/Summer 2010 Boutique Collection, Karl Lagerfeld said that country life is different than in former times because today, technology keeps us connected to whatever we wish. The bucolic life is quiet and isolated only if one wants it that way. Lagerfeld has always been quick to embrace technology and it is well known that he has multiple iPods and he quickly embraces innovation and change. Lagerfeld is one of the most culturally aware and au courante designers of our time. He is adept at synthesizing trends, historic styles, and cultural influences. He processes them into clothes and accessories that are modern and fresh. His mind is quick, and just as he switches effortlessly from French to German to English, he can also conjure up a virtuoso collection without appearing stressed. Unlike many designers who take inspiration from other epochs and style, his style references never look costume-y.

The traditional, iconic Chanel style continues to enthrall fashionistas decades after it returned to prominence in the 1950s, however Karl Lagerfeld has done admirable work in keeping it new but recognizably Chanel. When I first viewed the spring/ summer 2010 RTW collection, inspired by Marie Antoinette’s country escapades in which she retreated to a small dairy village on the grounds of Versailles, I didn’t see much of a connection. It was French, it was country, but stylistically, I couldn’t see anything of the 18th century queen in these fashions of 2010. This summer, I've had the opportunity to view several pieces from the collection close up, and am having new thoughts about it.

Clearly, the Chanel spring/ summer 2010 collection is not intended to be a literal take on late 18th century French fashion. Rather, it is a philosophical or aesthetic inspiration of her idealized and deceptively simple escape to the rural. At her little dairy, Rambouillet, a 10 minute walk from the palace, the style was countrified, but of the highest level of refinement. The details of garments in this Chanel collection also appear simple and rustic, but in fact they are carefully conceived and have discreetly elegant details. At Marie Antoinette’s dairy, and in this Chanel collection, the highest levels of French craftsmanship, dating back to pre-Renaissance times, are evident. For her Hameau de la Reine, accoutrements were made by the best French designers and artisans. The milk pails, embellished with finely modeled heads of rams, were of exquisite Sèvres porcelain from the Royal Porcelain manufactory, hand painted with enamels in faux bois, rather than rough real wooden buckets. The creation of something that appears simple but is actually of fine material and highly skilled workmanship as these Sèvres milk pails were, is comparable to these Chanels. At first glance these clothes may appear as straw and coarse burlap, but they are quality silks and linens, used in carefully designed garments. In the 1920s, Chanel's little black dresses were described as "pauvre deluxe;" the idea of silk/linen "burlap" is Lagerfeld's 21st century example of luxurious poverty.

La Laiterie de Rambouillet, bas-relief, 1780-1787; Photo, Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres
Continental porcelain, likely Dresden, cooler or bucket from the London Home of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, after the Sèvres model made for the dairy of Marie-Antoinette at the Hameau de la Reine, auctioned April 28th, 2010 ; Sotheby's photo

The workmanship, design, and quality seen in this collection are superb and of a refinement only possible in France or Italy. The most constant chromatic theme is the use of burlap, wheat, and straw-like and colours. Linking this to the preferences of Coco Chanel, straw beige was one of her favorite colours.

There was a very small collection within the collection that was red, white and blue, a summery look inspired by daisies, red poppies and blue cornflowers of the farm fields of France, and the July 14th Bastille Day decorations seen everywhere in France during the early summer. One "Bastille" look was of an ecru cardigan, matching skirt, burlap and wood clogs, and faux wicker or burlap purses, all with the applied red, white and blue patriotic flowers. This ensemble was one of the most popular, and was featured by many top fashion magazines. It is very charming, and it could be easily approximated by someone who loves it but can't afford it or find it. A style savvy woman could find a simple Orlon or cotton vintage cardigan at the thrift store and appliqué felt, silk, or crocheted flowers on it, and it would look delightful. But this would be like comparing a poster of a fine painting with the actual artifact in a museum. The skill and workmanship on these floral pieces was both sophisticated and detailed . Each flower was hand crocheted in a very fine gauge fiber. They were of just the right body and sturdiness to be dimensional and raised, but avoid being crushed or damaged worn. With tax, this piece would cost over $8,000.00 Canadian; it is certainly something that will have a limited clientele.

Chanel pullover from the Bastille Collection within the Spring/Summer Boutique collection, with applied crocheted poppies and cornflowers; pale gold buttons at the hip; photo courtesy of "darmardan" who recently had this top currently listed on eBay
a beautifully exectuted, hand-crochetted poppy; Chanel Spring/Summer 2010, image courtesy "darmardan"

For these summer 2010 Chanels, quality and taste are used in a discreet and modern way. On the surface, the silhouettes and cuts are not innovative or daring, but the pieces are very beautiful, flattering, and wearable. As production is limited, afficionados consider them collectable works of decorative, wearable art and craft. While much of the collection was monochromatic beige and cream, it avoided Grace Kelly propriety, with edgy, urban details such as delicate faux tattoos (a special edition Chanel Beauty product) the models had on their legs, and dark, almost black, lips and nails. The signature Chanel frayed hem and cuff looked especially appropriate when used for these country inspired, casual pieces. Jewellery and accessory collections were carefully thought out and related to the clothes of the collections. Stacked wooden and cork clogs of burlap, embellished with provençal flowers, contributed to a level of co-ordination usually seen in 1950s couture.

Some of the classic Chanel quilted handbags appeared to be of burlap but the material was not scratchy like jute, and the stitching was done with interesting, raised fibers, giving the whole piece a fuzzy, slightly spiky depth and texture. The jewellery was also thematically linked. The jewellery finish was a dull, pale, soft gold that was almost a metallic beige. One theme in the jewellery, the stalk of wheat, is a classic from the Chanel vocabulaire. In Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment, the wheat motif is visible in several places; notably there is a tiny oil painting of a single stalk of wheat, by Salvador Dali. This season, delicate stalks of wheat embellished belt buckles, brooches and necklaces. The classic interlocking double C logo was done in faux bois to look like twigs from a country woodland. In all aspects of the collection great attention was given to detail. I spoke to the manager of one Chanel boutique who mentioned that customers were very interested in this beautiful collection, as are they for the global warming theme, faux fur Fall/Winter 2010 collection that will beginning hitting stores any time now.
a brooch from the Spring/Summer 2010 Chanel Jewellery collection in faded gold finish incorporating the wheat motif as a wreath with a central double C logo rendered in faux bois, private collection

The "Marie Antoinette in the Country" inspired collection is an ideal look for a 21st century summer. It speaks to our longing for the country when most of us live complex lives in congested cities. It is simple and comfortable, and at first glance doesn’t draw unwanted attention or evoke envy during these times of economic difficulties. It has a distinctly casual look that doesn’t look too formal or too ladies-who-lunch, at a time when social barriers are much less evident, and denim jeans are the default choice of many. It does however satisfy the desire for quality, excellent design, discreet prestige, and superb quality for those who have the means, and an understanding of the creativity and great care that have gone into this subtle but very fine collection.

The iconic Chanel camellia, spring/summer 2010 version, of linen "burlap;" a fine, barely noticeable gold thread in the fabric adds textural interest and a subtle touch of elegance

A simple flower made with plain burlap and a vintage Chanel button; design, photo, and styling by SwF

It isn’t enough to be able to afford it, because even for those who can, these limited pieces have moved out of Chanel boutiques very quickly and were sold out. And for those of us who cannot afford a $3,000 Chanel basket purse, a $25.00 willow basket, as the Europeans take to the morning market for shopping, will look every bit as charming. In fashion and design, taste and creativity are just as important as cash.

This week marks the birthday of Coco Chanel, born August 19, 1883.
for a few dollars, a simple wicker basket and flowers from the craft store makes a summer carrier as pretty as those by Chanel; photo and styling, SwF
Chanel 2010, straw basket style handbag; image,

resin heel in Louis XVI style with neo classical floral swags recalls those on furniture of the period; photo SwF

a layered, tiered hem of frayed faux burlap, racy black lace, and gold thread wheat motif embroidery, viewed with a delicate Chanel Beauty faux tattoo; an unfinished burlap garment could easily lapse into Li'l Abner potato sack territory, but Lagerfeld avoids this with a more complex hem; we see a border of embroidered wheat and a flounce of delicate black lace, traditionally associated with luxury and refinement; photo SwF

note the top tier of the hem. It is a band of unfinished burlap like material, used on the bias, with the artfully frayed edges stabilised with 2 rows of machine stitching; photo SwF

the elegant beige and white scheme so lovely for summer; edging and waist band of crocheted braid; photo SwF

Chanel's country casual cork clog, embellished with a summery white poppy, photo Swf


  1. You never cease to amaze me with a wonderfully deatiled and well written piece, that has slighty changed my view of Chanel and Lagerfeld.

    For an incredibly long time I was a devotee of Chanel (the woman) and then for some reason she fell oit of favour and the Lqagerfeld reincarnation just seemed a money spinner for me. I am aware of his incredible range and talent as a designer and artist, but believed he was/is doing too much so that it his work in any field seems a bit passe or contrived.

    After reading this I am going to reconsider. Your own interpretations of the Chanel look are just wonderful.

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for visiting. Personally I am not a fan of Lagerfeld and I can understand your apprehension about him.

    He often talks of doing an "exercice de style," a very French concept of painting, designing, or writing in the style of a particular artist or epoch. Lagerfeld is better at assuming the styles of others than doing things that are entirely new. He often does this in his homes, trying to recreate pure visions of particular styles, such as his Second Empire style home in Monaco. Maybe it isn't "original" as we usually think of it, but it is a special form of creativity (not to mention an encylopedic understanding of various styles, which most designers do not have) to try to think or create like someone else. He certainly is very intelligent and aware of the past and present world around him, and I think this is a different sort of genius.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Chanel's birthday today! No 19 named in honour of her birthday and this is one of my all time favourite fragrances

  4. Great research and visuals to bring the uneducated to appreciate Lagerfeld's vision to life!

    Beautifully written Square!

  5. What a delightful romp through history from
    milk pails in Sevres, to high heels carved in
    resin researched and beautifully portrayed
    by the author. Especially fond of the bucolic
    camellia pin, and the one in burlap designed by you. Nice going, Mr Square with Flair

  6. From a new reader,
    Excellent post. The knitted top looks simple but is exquisitely made. I enjoyed your history and descriptions for both Lagerfeld and Chanel.

  7. Hi Barbara,
    Thank you for stopping by and for your kind comments. Please come and visit again.

  8. Thank you for showing this collection! Love the first outfit, except for the wooden heels (to me it does not fit with the rest of the look:) ) - can't believe the emphasis on crochet in the blouse - it has been a long time ago that crochet was in the forefront in Europe(I'm Dutch).