If colonial romanticism is a fantasy of civilisation amid the savages, then the Cruise 2014 Womens Chanel collection is a wonderfully refined imagination of that civilised life. If that sounds intellectual and heady, the collection wasn’t; it was light, effortless, and fun.
Ostensibly inspired by an imagination of colonial South-East Asia, the collection picks up on motifs of the era as seen through a lens of Chanel’s house codes, the contemporary eye of Karl Largerfeld and the craftsmanship of the house. Unifying these disparate themes were parallels that created a common ground. Chanel’s signature cream and black palette and references to the black and white bungalows of colonial Singapore, for instance.
The show venue was a disused house on a former nutmeg plantation. The house was rehabbed for the purpose of the show, clean, but with peeling paint as a nod to its history. The show began with a statement of the Chanel woman of today on vacation. She starts her day here in this house from the past in a lounge suit from the future: easy wide-legged pants worn with long belted sweaters and of course, piles of faux pearls. The wide-legged pants would recur in the show, in white bordered in navy, in grey tweed, or later as jeans, worn with tops including a tulle jacket embroidered by Maison Lesage, coats and also luxurious takes on oversized t-shirts.
The first theatrical highpoint came in a pair of cricket players clad in sweaters with shoulder-wide, deep V-necks worn with shirt and tie, accessorised with shinguards and cricket bats. Maybe they were really cricket groupies in borrowed clothes after a tryst; the sweaters slid down the arms of the models as they made their way down the very long catwalk. No matter, it is an eternal summer in this part of the world and you’re going to deal with the heat however you will, I suppose.
On holiday, the Chanel woman might also want to wear something as comfortable as sweat pants, here rendered in a print suggestive of various ethnic weaving techniques (Karl Lagerfeld says you should ‘reinvent the details’, after all) and gathered at the ankle. When paired with band collared jackets, and coats, there was more than a whisper of that other great colonial outpost, India.
The highlight of the final passage of evening wear was a series of dresses in black and white. Each embellished in white feathers that had then been printed over with a slick of black in a pattern of varying stripes, an echo of the blinds hanging around the show venue. On some dresses, this was a touch of prettiness tempered with a hint of graphic edge. And in a showstopping moment, Cara Delevingne appeared walking in a mini explosion of feathers and tar.
In a show with 80 looks, there was much to look at that was dramatic and exciting, but perhaps much more importantly, plenty that are clearly things that women (and some men) can and will want to wear. A woman on vacation, coping with heat and humidity, possibly without air-conditioning, and still wonderfully chic.
This Chanel event, from the film screening the night before about the opening of the Chanel boutique in Deauville a hundred years ago in 1913, to the show and the after party, was a statement of the very contemporary ethos of Coco’s point of view. It was radical in her day, yes, but it made sense then and it still makes incredibly stylish sense now. – Yew Tan
Images: Allen Tan