By Eric Wilson
Updated May 03, 2017 @ 2:30 pm
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

It’s hard to beat Cuba as the setting for a cruise fashion show, as Chanel proved last year with its extravagant adventure in Havana. But anyone who thought that Karl Lagerfeld would rest on his laurels with a show back home at Paris headquarters would have been stunned instead. Upon entering an upper-floor gallery of the Grand Palais on Wednesday, attendees encountered a scene out of Ancient Greece, with enormous columns inspired by the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon.

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OK, so it wasn’t the functioning rocket ship from the fall ready-to-wear show, but the set was still jaw-dropping, having required a crew of 50 people working for more than three weeks to build the eight stone columns, each more than 25 feet high. Another three were toppled. And there appeared to be a garden of wild herbs growing in the ruins, as well as a large olive tree. It was practically a Grand Tour, minus the buses and the dust.


Lagerfeld, among his many skills as a designer addressing the norms of the 21st-century customer, has mastered the concept of these modern press-centric cruise shows. These used to be derided as being all about wearable clothes that made commercial sense but were too dull to look at on a runway. Not so at Chanel. From the set to the looks, the event demands the utmost attention, at least in order not to miss the subtle jokes (emergency exit signs here were rendered as ancient stone engravings, hahaha), the enormous wit (heels shaped as ionic columns), and all of the fashion, of course.


“The Modernity of Antiquity” was Lagerfeld’s theme for cruise, as the invitation featured an image of a marble sculpture of Venus that belonged to Coco Chanel and remains in her apartment on the rue Cambon. Seated next to me at the show was the British actress Anna Brewster (she stars in the BBC series Versailles, who had seen the apartment the day before, which happened to be her birthday. “They brought me a cake,” she said. “There are worse things than blowing out the candles in Coco Chanel’s apartment.” Coco, as Karl pointed out, was deeply inspired by antiquities, and, fairly early in her career, she designed the costumes for Jean Cocteau’s staging of Antigone.


As for Lagerfeld, his interest in Greece, “as the origin of beauty and culture, where there was a wonderful freedom of movement that has since vanished,” as he was quoted in his press notes, is nothing more than a figment. “Reality is of no interest to me,” he said. “I use what I like. My Greece is an idea.”

That’s a fair disclaimer, for this was not a toga party, but still one for the history books. Lagerfeld offered a lighter array of knit dresses and plissé culottes that flicked lightly at the classics theme, including a key motif in intarsia and gladiator sandals in gold, teal, and orange versions, or a jewel-encrusted top that resembled a luxury breastplate. On the less literal side were clear plastic coats worn over swimwear, sporty ecru knits, or a gold leather bomber jacket that offered a more contemporary interpretation of Greek dressing that will play well closer to home. That is to say, not every cruise show has to be an Odyssey.