PARIS, France — Pay the price of a piece of couture and you can expect the finest embroidery, the most exquisite beadwork. But wood shavings? Wood shavings! Karl Lagerfeld insinuated them into the decoration for the Chanel collection he showed this morning as perhaps the most graphic illustration of his eco-inspiration. Even his bride at the finale had wood worked through her outfit (which, admittedly, was already as far from tradition as a fuzzy hoodie with a train could get). Lagerfeld talked about recycling and reusing elements, paper, for instance. Perhaps it was a waste-not-want-not ethos reflected in a waistcoat made of tiny wooden tiles or a skirt strung with wooden beads. The motif of the collection was the bee, embroidered in gold throughout. Celebrating nature with clothes that are the apogée of purest artifice might seem well in keeping with the character of a designer who’s always displayed a finely tuned appreciation of irony, and yet the collection Lagerfeld showed — and the way he showed it — was so much the antithesis of all things fast and disposable that it actually did make a very convincing stand for couture eco-consciousness.
The backdrop had a strong Eastern feel, anchored by a huge wooden pavilion, maybe a temple or a spa, sitting in a tranquil setting of trees, lotus-filled ponds and a spread of lush greensward. The sky above, blocking out the grey interior of the Grand Palais, was a limpid blue. The sun was shining. The illusion was flawless: it was a gorgeous day in Cocoland. And, when they came, the clothes made it only more so. Lagerfeld emphasised the importance of silhouette. The line was long and elegant, the volume of a rounded sleeve up top tapering away to mid-calf pencil skirts. Edie Campbell in navy-banded white tweed paired with a navy skirt defined the classically graceful look, though the palette generally tended more to pale, earthy neutrals (Lagerfeld dubbed Chanel "the queen of beige").
The sun shone some more and the clothes moved in lightness. The details made the point: tulle frothed from a skirt slit, another skirt dissolved into fringe. As the show progressed, everything got even lighter and shinier. Long, airy dresses shimmered under gilded organza capes. And the golden honey bees were embroidered everywhere. The fate of the honey bee has become a rallying issue for environmentalists. How gratifying to imagine Karl Lagerfeld taking up the cause in his own way, making the humble bee a key supporting player in his serenely beautiful scenario.