It’s been a three day marathon of intense firsts for me. First time in Dubai. Check. First time cavorting through sand dunes in the desert. Check. First time attending what seem to be increasingly extravagant Chanel Cruise trips. Check, check and check. “Happily discombobulated” (thanks Tilda Swinton for putting words in my mouth!) is the best way of summing up the whole experience. Dubai has its own heavily contrasting layers of artifice and reality but having Chanel bring you out to this city, straight into lush hotel surroundings, sumptuous feasts and ace activity planning is another heady layer of fantasy.
Whilst I’m in the middle of a travelling “cruise” jaunt at the moment (first Dior in New York, then Chanel in Dubai and next up, Louis Vuitton in Monaco), it’s fair to say that Chanel owns the cruise escapade, taking a select few (plus the entire world through social media now – judging by likes/comments, people seem to be loving all things #ChanelCruiseDubai) to far flung places yes, but then creating their own super heightened (or twisted in some cases) vision of that particular place. That was certainly the case with Dubai, a city that is everything and nothing at the same time.
Karl Lagerfeld was apparently fascinated by the fact this was a city built up from the sand and the sea and indeed, that was the first thing that strikes you as you drive into the downtown area, confronted by skyscrapers seemingly sprung up out of nowhere and into the mega malls that house every brand under the sun (I now know where I can go to scuba dive, ice skate, shop and eat at Cartier, COS, Pottery Barn and Eric Kayser all in one place). Up the stupendously tall Burj Khalifa and you find yourself faced with a dizzying sight of mishmash architecture and beyond this mini metropolis, desert, sea and man made islands – we spied Chanel’s intended show venue from up above – a deserted sandbank that had been magically transformed.
High on our dream Dubai agenda list was the desert. For me, it was just the simple act of seeing and feeling it. A little like when I used to go to Margate/Westgate with Steve at weekends and stared at the sea because I grew up mostly land-locked. Two hours of driving through the sand dunes, running up a hill and encountering onyxes and camels was definitely enough of a contrasting foil to the brushed steel and glass of downtown Dubai.
Back in the city, along the banks of the Dubai Creek in the “old” part of Dubai (old meaning retro relics from the 1970s) you have souks hawking gold, diamonds and spices. Whilst hardly like the souks of Marrakech or the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, there were at the very least hints of “tradition” in this city, however displaced and imported they might be.
When I told people I was going to Dubai, they’d grimace and say things like, “It’s like Vegas… so fake!” That was ultimately the question swirling around throughout this three day trip – what is real and what is fake? Perhaps that was behind Karl Lagerfeld’s thinking in bringing us to Dubai. The contrasts of this strange some-kind-of-reality city all played out at the show. We departed for the man made island on traditional wooden Abra boats. The guests formed a sea of white, black and pearls, with shades of pastels popping up, courtesy of Chanel – hardcore clients from the region were all of course invited in their droves and they pledged their allegiance to the brand head to toe.
I don’t think I’ve seen such an array of enthusiastic (and still incredibly individual) Chanel fangirls.
I sadly couldn’t adhere to that specific dress code so did my best in a Borne white ruffled shirt, a Tsumori Chisato tutu skirt embroidered with little surfers and palm trees and trusty Christopher Kane embellished sandals for the sand, which covered both the ground of both outside and inside the venue. Thanks to Antony Miles and Kevin Tachman for the quick-pics.
On the island a path lined with palm trees, bedouin tents and shisha pipes led to a structure that floored most people. A box of a building clad with gold fretwork that you might find in Islamic design except here, the motif was a repeat pattern of interlocking CC’s. Chanel frickin’ fretwork that will be dismantled after the show and disappear as quickly as it was erected.
At the ready to wear shows in Paris, the physical central set pretty much always dictates the story. Here far away in cruise situ, Chanel really takes liberty to go one step further and carve out their own fantasy, complete with every fastidious detail. They got the timing of the show just right as Charlotte Free opened the show with her shock of pink hair back combed and big, to begin the relaxed tweeds and cotton daywear as a backdrop of midnight blue had fallen in the skies.
The course of the fifty-something look show swung and swerved through Lagerfeld’s own vision of the Orient (meant strictly in the inoffensive endearingly old-fashioned Victorian sense of the word). Beyond Dubai, Lagerfeld mined this part of the world, cherry picking decorative details and features to collage together into a wardrobe, that women from all over the globe with deep pockets would want to wear in sunny climes, or layered up in colder ones. Lagerfeld continues the ongoing conversation about the changing world and woman – that the former is getting smaller and the latter travels around it more frequently and that they can freely wear clothes rooted to another part of the world that’s not their own. Keffiyah prints, boucherouite rag rug tweeds and then an explosion of print, mostly abstracted and taken from 11th century Islamic tiles all featured heavily. Brightly hued geometrics and floral motifs were patchworked, laser-cut and pleated as Chanel’s penchant for surface experimentation came into its own. This is where the collection’s verve really kicked on. The silhouettes veered in a see-saw motion from Paul Poiret’s Oriental forms to Ossie Clark and Bill Gibb’s free-flowing folkloric romance. “Marisa Berenson on a magic carpet” is how Tilda Swinton aptly summed it up when asked about the show.
In amongst this Arabian Nights fantasy were little knowing humour nods that have come to signify Lagerfeld’s tenure at Chanel. The quilted gold bag shaped like a petrol can for instance as those that have accumulated their wealth through oil continue to spend, spend, spend in Chanel boutiques. The perspex strappy mid-height sandals that light up in the heels and the soles – a statement shoe for the women who want something to sparkle from beneath black burqas. The crescent moon jewellery – sometimes precious, sometimes paste – again asserting our questioning of what is real and what’s not. What really resonated though was Lagerfeld’s respect for modesty attire in this part of the world as barely shoulders or legs were on display throughout the course of the show.
None of the referencing and semantics will really matter to this audience. The sheikhas and princesses applauded with delight. If they arrived at the show already enthusiastically trussed up in current SS14 brushstroke prints and couture pastel tweeds, these harem trousers, floral cardigans and long abaya-esque robes and dish dasha-type tunics will fly. And beyond the sheikhas? I can only speak for my oil-lacking but print-loving self – together with Phil Oh, I am a prime advocate of #FlorCore – so those prints were right up my street. Then of course comes the crash back down to reality, when Chanel from my POV is for seeing, observing and analysing, rather than actually wearing.
Still, my bucket list just got three items shorter. Dubai. Desert. Chanel Cruise. That was all real. And it was all real good.
P.S. After years of trepidation of post-show crowds, in this slightly (I say “slightly”) more intimate setting, I got a sentence with Karl at a Chanel show. Yay me. Maybe next time, I’ll string it along to two sentences. One can only hope.