Now You Know: Why Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel Collection Looks Better the Second Time Around

karl lagerfeld chanel
Photo: David X Prutting/

Welcome to Now You Know, Eric Wilson’s column that will help you become a fashion know-it-all in one easy read. Each week, he’ll take a look at an endearing fashion influence and why it’s relevant right now. Enjoy!

What a difference a stage makes.

Watching the Chanel Paris-Salzburg runway show on Tuesday night, reprised for a larger audience at the Park Avenue Armory following its debut in Austria last December, two main thoughts occurred. First, it must be a strange experience for a designer like Karl Lagerfeld, who is constantly moving forward, to have to repeat himself on occasion. The other thought was how much better this collection looked the second time around, even though it was almost exactly the same.

Lagerfeld repeated most of the looks, the same outfits on the same models featured in an Austrian themed collection with nods of lederhosen and earmuffs with cinnamon bun swirls of Heidi braids. Stella Tennant wore the same wide-leg trousers, ruffle-collared blouse and tweed coat, though she had changed her hair color, Jamie Bochert was dressed in a long white sweater dress, Lindsey Wixson had on a baby blue ribbon skirt with a skimmy top, embroidered with a pastoral scene of flying fowl. Even that frilly dress detailed with butterflies and feathers, a polarizing version of which Keira Knightley made famous when she wore it to the Golden Globes, made its return, as curious as ever.

karl lagerfeld chanel
David X Prutting/

Anyway, robbed of the historic context (the rococo setting of Salzburg, where Coco Chanel was said to have been inspired to create her most famous tweed jacket by a uniform worn by an elevator attendant at the Mittersill Hotel), this collection seemed surprisingly more approachable. I hadn’t noticed the cool leather jackets, or the simple dress with funny pretzel charms before. Within the grand hall of the Armory, the Chanel magicians had constructed what seemed to be a more minimalist version of that set, with “rooms”—the walls did not extend all the way to the ceiling—painted in super saturated shades of gold, blue, and burgundy, with antique-looking tables and seats spread throughout. In the burgundy library room, even the books were painted in the same shade, so dark it verged on black.

After the show, which was mobbed with celebrities, by the way, I made my way toward the crush of people surrounding Lagerfeld in the gold room. Pharrell Williams, who plays the uniformed elevator attendant in a Lagerfeld-directed film and created a Chanel-inspired song for this collection, was surrounded by cameras. Beyoncé, too, was deep in the crush, wearing a very short red leather skirt, and politely saying hello to all the people who she passed. I saw Nicola Peltz, Julianne Moore, Dakota Johnson, and Patti Smith, all before I got to Lagerfeld, who was surrounded by people lined up in all directions, like human ropes coming together in a knot around the designer.

“You know the show looks completely different here,” Lagerfeld said. “It was in a castle in Austria. The set was so overpowering you could hardly see the clothes. Here with this clean set, you could really see the clothes. I rediscovered a lot of clothes I had forgotten, because, since then, I had done couture, pre-fall, fall, and I’m in the middle of the cruise collection. It’s a non-stop dialogue. Normally I don’t look at things from the past, but this is the past not that far away, only a few months, and I was surprised that the clothes still looked fresh.”

By the way, this collection is not even in stores until later this summer.

“They are very easy,” Lagerfeld. “Who wants tortured clothes? Nobody can wear them. My proposition is what I like. I’m not doing something to please the crowd. I’m doing something that I hope I will like, first, myself.”

Oh, but you know he can please a crowd. After the show, guests moved into another room designed like a Viennese café (minus the pastries), where Pharrell, in his Chanel elevator uniform, ended the night on “Happy.”

PHOTOS: Runway Looks We Love: Chanel

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