Friday, October 16, 2009

The Spectace of Chanel

Some of you were asking for this, so here it goes...

Chanel shows have always been about a spectacle. Each one is centered around some grand concept and set piece. Karl doesn't just give you models walking down a runway; he gives you models set in a completely different world each season. For his SS10 show, this different world was located in the country...perhaps on a farm in the Vermont countryside. It's no secret Karl has had a fascination with Vermont of late. He bought a farm house there where he shot the past two Chanel campaigns. And for many of us who live in cities, Vermont can seem very otherworldly. Keeping this in mind, I think it's also pertinent to point out the larger context of the economic recession that we are living in. As much as it may seem like it, fashion does not exist in a vacuum. It's creative ideas are not immune to the dips and crests of the outside world. In fact, fashion must react to them quickly if it wants to stay afloat. And so the analysis that follows is couched within these two ideas of spectacle and recession. With any other designer and any other design house, these two ideas would seem antagonistic. But since we are dealing with Karl and Chanel, they make perfect sense.

Karl knew he had to deliver something memorable in this climate where everyone else is scaling back. So he went all out and set up a barn complete with dirt floor, grass and haystacks. I believe this was his most outlandish effort to date. After all, hauling in truckloads of dirt, reconstructing a country barn, and building a stage that rises out of the ground can't be cheap. It seems like he was turning things up a notch in the hopeful attempt to compensate for any negative effects of the downturn.

The ending scene with Freja, Baptiste and Lara was just one part of the entire spectacle. I think people were making it out to be more of a big deal than it actually was. (If you watch the video, you see the kiss is just a tiny peck.) Karl was already moving in this direction when Lara and Baptiste kissed at the end of the Chanel Haute Couture show in July. And we don't even know if he instructed Freja and Lara to kiss at the end, or if they acted on their own impetus inspired by the moment. It could have been an improvised move by the two girls who are obviously friends and comfortable with each other. After all, they did kiss again as they were walking off the runway in what looked like a display of spontaneous and genuine affection between friends.

Whether it was Karl's plan or not, that final scene got people talking and made the Chanel show one of the more memorable and critically praised ones in Paris. (Read through the critics' quotes and you'll see that everyone enjoyed the levity of the show.) And so the spectacle battles against the recession. Some of you might consider this exploitation and I can see where you are coming from. But I don't think we can make this judgment because we simply don't know all the facts. Like I said before, we don't even know if Karl mapped out that final scene move by move, or if he just gave free reign to Freja, Baptiste and Lara to have fun. After all, the mood of the entire show was such with all the girls smiling, dancing and hamming it up, and with Lily Allen performing. And if the models acted out of their own will then it's not exploitation.

I also don't think Karl was outing Freja either. Everyone who knows the truth about her sexuality knows about it. Everyone who doesn't still won't after the Chanel show. (I think it's important to note here that the rumors about her sexuality have never been confirmed or denied, one way or another. We seem to forget that and just assume we know.) To the casual observer (who made up most of the audience) there was really nothing there to suggest anything about Freja's personal life. Because we are Freja fans, we take things like this and read our preconceived notions into them--we make suppositions based on what we think we know, and not on common sense. So no, I don't think this tells us any more about Freja or gives us any more insight into who she is and who she loves. I think it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise, just like it would be ridiculous to assume that Baptiste practices polygamy just because he was with two women. Or that Lara is a lesbian just because she kissed Freja back.

I don't have much else to say about the show. I think it was supposed to be a fantastic spectacle that transported the audience to a different place where problems of the real world didn't exist. I don't think Karl was exploiting anyone or trying to make some sweeping statement on sexuality. Maybe he was playing with androgyny a little bit, as he's been prone to do recently. (If he can dress his male muse Baptiste in women's clothes, why can't he dress his female muse Freja in men's?) Overall I think he just wanted for everyone to have fun and for everything to be as whimsical and over-the-top as possible; and recession be damned, I think he succeeded.

Feel free to disagree. :)

Image Credits:, zimbio


Anonymous said...

the only thing that ruined Chanel's wonderful show was Lily Allen,I can't stand her.But the kiss was extremely underwhelming and honestly don't see what the big deal was.

Anonymous said...

Hey. I was just wondering if you could post a link so I can take a look at the Chanel show.

Thanks a lot for the blog. Keep up the good work.

From an interested Australian......

Anonymous said...

the second kiss did look more like they've done it out of genuine affection that come from being friends.

Rrose Sélavy said...

There's video of it in this post:

Although I'm sure if you search youtube you can find something better and more comprehensive. :)

Anonymous said...

this blog is about to be a year should make a spectacle outta of it.

CamL said...

cant agree more!
Chanel show is spectacular i think it always manages to bring me to this fantasy utopia.
i’m glad it’s a much talk abt show, cos the publicity promotes our fav model.. but don’t really get why some people are making such BIG hoo-haa abt the sexuality issue. we love Freja, we love Karl, audiences enjoyed the show, critics praised it, models enjoyed themselves and that’s all it matters, no? it was all fun.