Chanel Métiers d’Art: Inside last night’s stunning tribute to Paris

chanel metiers d'art rome

Call it a moveable fashion feast—complete with Kristin Stewart, handbags shaped like film projectors and bite-sized cannoli. Even though Chanel’s latest Métiers d’Art collection took place on the outskirts of Rome at Cinécitta, the legendary film studios favoured by Fellini and Zeffirelli, the evening was ultimately a tribute to Paris.

Like any Chanel production, last night qualified as fabulous. If first impressions conjured Karl as emperor, summoning us to anancient city (originally constructed for the television series, Rome), the grand finale portrayed him as a man of the people, an impeccably dressed pedestrian strolling through a Paris neighbourhood rendered in monochrome like a 1960s French film.

But unlike the typical Métiers d’Art collections, which highlight the Chanel ateliers’ exceptional skills and design innovation, this one didn’t dwell on its destination. Leading up to the show, editors wondered whether the visual thrust would take cue from the golden age of Cesar and Augustus, or a lighter Roman Holiday vibe. One subtle clue: the collection’s title, “Paris in Rome” versus “Paris-Salzburg” or “Paris-Dallas” from previous years. As Karl’s confidante and collection advisor, Amanda Harlech, explained it to me: “All roads lead to Rome but [Karl] brings Paris to its heart, which is extraordinary.” Calling it “a complete osmosis,” she described the concept as Paris girls visiting Rome and returning with a piece of clothing or accessory. “That kind of free flow is what fashion is, really. I thought that was brilliant because it was very light.”

So what did we actually see? Well, before the show, the crowd—which included a sizeable Italian contingent (Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, Carla Sozzani, Anna Dello Russo, Carla Fendi and Sylvia Venturini Fendi)—watched a short mockumentary-style film, Once and Forever, directed by Lagerfeld and starring Kristin Stewart as an obstinate actress and Geraldine Chaplin cast as a levelheaded, older Coco. “You know, the couture is not an art; it’s a job… It’s not la mode. Chanel is style above everything,” recited the latter, looking very much the part.

This isn’t a revelation, but it did underscore all the effort that goes into making a collection look so effortless. With oversized mohair and curly wool jackets topping boudoir-inspired negligée dresses, and trompe l’oeil suit dresses, the expected chic appeared infused with added cheek. Beauty-wise, it was exaggerated cat eyes and backcombed bedroom hair. As for footwear, models donned mules punctuated with pearls or Timberland-style boots. But the flirt factor was matched by finesse; delicate encrustations of lace, hand-painted linings that resembled Italian marble and beaded overlays like bonnets from antiquity. All the while, Lagerfeld was loosely channeling the likes of Monica Vitti, Elsa Martinelli, Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider—vintage screen sirens who were once filmed in Coco’s designs.

The evening resonated even more profoundly, given how Paris is still healing from the attacks on November 13. There we were, seated in an outdoor replica of the city at its loveliest: a black and white backdrop that felt at once nostalgic and eerie. But then the café lights illuminated, the musicians began to play, the models ascended the steps of a Métro stop (naturally, Rome station, which actually exists) and the statement felt defiant—even more so once the scene turned from runway to a Chanel-ified street party. Joie de vivre—or was it la dolce vita?—filled the air.