Paris notes: Elegant decay at Chanel and Sarah Burton’s runway debut for Alexander McQueen [gallery]

Karl Lagerfeld and Inès de la Fressange at the Chanel Spring 2011 show. Photography by Peter Stigter

“You can see who has the real power in Paris,” one retailer remarked as we took our seats along with nearly 3,000 others in the Grand Palais for Chanel’s Spring 2011 show.

Where other designers have absurdly restrictive guest lists, Chanel has always opened its arms to clients, buyers and press. Although the inclusiveness comes with some precautions: explosive-sniffing dogs and airport security scanners were posted at the entrance.

You can’t blame Chanel for wanting to protect their investment (or their clients, for that matter). The house had taken over the entire Grand Palais, assembling an astounding 90 models, recreating a Versailles-type formal garden in stark black and white, and brought in an 80-piece orchestra for musical accompaniment. The collection was equally bold with pearl-spattered knits, moth-eaten tweeds and ostrich feathers fluttering from jacket hems or covering an entire dress. There was an air of elegant decay to many of the pieces, in keeping with the season’s undercurrent of punk.

Karl Lagerfeld took his bow arm in arm with Inès de la Fressange, the face of Chanel in the 1980s, whom he had fired decades ago after a perceived indiscretion. But time can heal even the deepest rifts. [See a video of the Chanel show, including an interview with Inès de la Fressange]

Yesterday also featured Sarah Burton’s touching runway debut as creative director of Alexander McQueen. Her butterfly frills, gilded wheat trims, psychotic ruching and fantastical feathers proved she is more than able to carry the torch for the late, tortured fashion genius.

Other highlights: Romantic, feminine frills at Valentino.

See a gallery of looks from Chanel and Alexander McQueen»

Read our full coverage of the Spring 2011 collections»

More Style