Haute Couture

Chanel, Back to the Future

Karl Lagerfeld’s couture collection, which debuted in Paris on Tuesday, updated the classic Chanel look with a grungy edge and high-tech fabrics.

Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty

For his Chanel womenswear show in March, Karl Lagerfeld took spectators on a world tour with a giant globe installed in the Grand Palais. But for the Fall 2013 couture collection, which showed in Paris on Tuesday, he chose to transform the building into a war-torn theater, complete with rubble and a broken roof.

Guests, including Rihanna, Vanessa Paradis, and Kristen Stewart, sat on humble wooden chairs in front of a stage. The show began when a set of dusty black curtains creaked open to reveal a futuristic cityscape as the backdrop.

This juxtaposition of old and new set the tone for the collection—which drew on classic Chanel tweeds with a futuristic samurai spin and a rebellious, grungy edge.

The traditional tweeds had a graphic edge, and modern textile innovations added a visual dynamism. The workmanship of the materials also sometimes felt a little Japanese. (One jacket was made of what looked like a single piece of material folded in two and seemingly joined at the shoulder.) Another key theme was layering—such as textured miniskirts over longer, narrow skirts—and suede or tutus over layers.

Models moved down into the audience, working the aisles at a busy pace while wearing these new incarnations of the Chanel look. There was an Audrey Hepburn-meets-cyborg feel to the makeup and hair—think thick eyebrows and chiseled cheeks—and locks starched up high above the forehead in futuristic pompadours.

Few of the looks were traditionally elegant; most bore an edge and a rebellious spirit of urban chic. Jackets and skirts were sometimes paired in mismatching material and color combinations, jazzing up the classic Chanel.

There was a play on traditional jacket proportions. Variations included low- and high-slung lapels and collar lines, or jackets that buttoned across the torso at an angle. Some had a luxuriously baggy fit, such as a samurai-style jacket held together with a low-slung wide belt, and an ankle-length coat cinched at the waist that extended into an almost A-frame lower half. One decorative panel worn under a black dress resembled samurai chest armor.

Evening dresses were inventive, featuring graphic cubes and tutu-style net skirts worn as part of a layered outfit. A black chiffon dress floated by fronted with a panel of delicate squares, a plunging black sequined bustier came paired with a flowing printed chiffon skirt, and as the partner to a black velvet top, a flouncy skirt with silver cubes lent kinetic energy.

Models moved so quickly that the show rolled out as a blur of textures—a sea of sequins, tweeds, chiffons, and prints with an almost Japanese futuristic play with fabrics and silhouettes. With the collection, Lagerfeld offered a young-at-heart interpretation of his high art. The show’s finale bride, Erin Wasson—with her train tacked to the back of her buttoned white tweed dress accessorized with a low-slung belt—offered a new vision of how to dress for the big day.