There were so many reasons why the Chanel Cruise collection that Karl Lagerfeld showed in Seoul tonight made perfect sense. From a design point of view, Korean traditions offered him a trove of inspiration much newer than the familiar tropes of China and Japan. From a cultural point of view, the K-Pop phenomenon had all the color and sugar-rush kick that Lagerfeld could possibly crave. And then there was the inescapable business perspective: Judging by the strikingly stylish audience, the local clientele might be just about the best advertisement Chanel could possibly want. Coco herself never made it this far east, but she would surely have been as impressed as Lagerfeld was to see at least 12 guests in the same dress Gisele Bündchen wore in the Spring 2015 show while he was doing his finale circuit. Incidentally, Mrs. Brady was in the front row. So were Kristen Stewart, Tilda Swinton, and Isabelle Huppert. The modern Chanel is a broad church.
And it travels. Several hundred journalists from all over the world assembled in Seoul, so pie-eyed with jet lag that they couldn’t help but wonder how Karl himself managed to seem so entirely on top of it all. His solution for circadian dysrhythmia was simple: fly private. "I ask for everything because I want nothing," was his irrefutable rationale.
Quotable Karl was in full effect in Seoul. "I have no idea of any kind of practical life," he insisted at one point, declaring that the extent of his household activity was opening the fridge door. And yet there is always a practical something in Lagerfeld’s collections for Chanel. Here, there was a sprinkling of sober little jackets, half-belted high in the back. A drop-waisted pleated dress was proper smart. A gorgeous tweed ensemble wove the Korean characters for "Chanel," "camellia," and "Cambon" into an elusive pattern.
It was, in fact, this integration of the host nation into the collection that created its most special effects. Past and future knocked boots (they were actually leather stockings). The models were made up like manga kewpies, their hair concealed under big "hats" of braided black hair, a reference to Korean tonsorial tradition. The major visual motif was a busy and brightly colored patchwork, a technique, which, Lagerfeld said, is only found in Korea. The mother-of-pearl embroidery that traced a black wrap dress was inspired by the decoration on Korean wedding chests. The high empire line and flaring sleeves on full-silhouetted dresses were Lagerfeld’s sublimation of traditional garb.
But then there were the oddities, synthetic, like people imagine K-Pop culture to be: wide patent pants, turquoise lace culottes, more lace with a sheen that looked like it had been washed in petrol. Lagerfeld trimmed tweed with patent, and attached a cream patent collar to a black gown. Jarring, unexpected flourishes. One outfit had a tabard of abstracted camellias. "Mechanical," Lagerfeld called them. They found their match in the perkily hiccupping electro of Michel Gaubert’s soundtrack.
The designer was sporting an Apple Watch with a gold link band, apparently one of an edition limited to just three (Anna Wintour and Beyoncé have the others). Aside from the inevitable photo gallery of superstar feline Choupette, he was quite happy to summon up the app, which showed his beating heart. "Just to prove I have one," he clarified. But who really needed proof after tonight’s energetic and engaging presentation? Lagerfeld not only has heart, he has Seoul too.