Citizens of Rome must be slightly amused by the fashion cavalry that has passed through its marble monuments, ancient ruins and golden excess, not once but twice this year. In the summer, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccoli of Valentino presented us with their ode to Rome – an outpouring of heartfelt love for their hometown. The Frenchiest of French houses, Chanel taking their Métiers D’Art show to Rome was of course going to be an entirely different affair. The hashtag would clue you in. #ParisInRome. Sure, before the show, journalists and editors had scoffed lashings of pasta, marvelled at the Sistine Chapel first thing in the morning when it was practically empty and gorged ourselves on Caravaggio’s, Bernini’s and enough varieties of marble and gilt that made your mind and gut full of pleasure. So far, so very Roman.
Then things took a very different turn when we arrived at the legendary Cinecittà film studios. Behind the facade of a plywood Rome film set (incidentally this was where the BBC series Rome was filmed) and the polystyrene statues and inside Teatro No. 5, the movie stage favoured by Federico Fellini, it’s Paris that took centre stage. But wait, it was a Paris that exists only in the minds of Japanese tourists before they suffer a severe bout of Paris Syndrome. All quaint cobbled streets, charming cafes, boulangeries and boucheries, adorned with a classic Metro stop and Eiffel Tower twinkling in the painted backdrop. It was a Paris that feels like it’s fast disappearing, given what has happened this year and so for some, this black and white set might have felt like a mythical wonderland.
The fantasy was pronounced though. We could see the film set lights. We could see the exposed backdrops. We could see the make-believe. Lagerfeld was perhaps in a bit of a meta mood as his latest (and longest) directed film Once and Forever, sees Kristen Stewart tackling the role of a young Coco Chanel. It’s meant to be a behind the scenes peek at the making of a brand film as you see Stewart throwing tantrums with the fictional director, doing rehearsal second takes as well as some very awkward French singing. The world can’t all be about surface, gloss and perfection. We know that. Lagerfeld knows that.
And thus the scene was set for a show that affirmed a vague connection between Coco Chanel and Rome’s cinematic heyday (she dressed French ingenues like Romy Schneider and Jeanne Moreau when they starred in Visconti and Pasolini films) but ultimately gave Lagerfeld license to express Chanel at its haughtiest and Parisian best. It was hard not to think about all those countless Paris-girls-dress-better-than-everyone-else books and articles that have been lobbed our way over the years. It’s a tired trope that I’m not personally a fan of but it was hard not to be seduced by these beehived, smoky eyed Left Bank Beat-era femmes. They wore sleaze-hinting patent, racy lacy tights and stuck to black and white for the most part, adhering to Coco Chanel’s favoured colour scheme: ““I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”
Metal hardware like giant hooped earrings and ring zipper pulls made you think of sixties space age detailing. And yet, as much as the retro-isms ran amok, the result was in fact a playful and deftly handled take on our collective imagining of French ingenue chic. And begrudgingly I have to admit, as much as I hate oft-repeated mantras about timeless style, what Lagerfeld resurrected from black and white French new wave cinema, does in fact remain relevant today. I’m just going to be crass and say it: these girls emerging from the Metro station steps looked cool. It’s a silly word to use most of the time but in this instance, it’s difficult to refute.
It wasn’t all black and white though. Just like that famous scene in Wizard of Oz or a more relevant reference for me, that charming 1998 film Pleasantville – colour did seep into this monochrome Paris. So did some hint of Italiano. Like an empire line floor length gown decorated with leather farfalle pasta and a pretty pink bow. Or a delicate ovoid feather cape dyed with pink streaks to look like travertine marble. Appliquéd autumnal leaves and rainbow dip dyed lace brought Métiers D’Art’s purpose to the forefront and that is of course showing off the wonderful and magical skills of the specific craft houses that are owned under Chanel’s Paraffection umbrella – namely Lesage and Lemarié. That’s the next chapter of my Metiers D’Art journey, as I was lucky enough to go visit these ateliers in Pantin, Paris a week before the show. Rome might have been the temporary backdrop but all roads in fact, lead back to Paris.