PARIS (AP) — The ever-audacious Karl Lagerfeld proved he’s still nimble when it comes to putting on a fashion show. The instantly recognizable designer had the Eiffel Tower recreated for the pleasure of his Chanel couture celebrity guests inside the Grand Palais.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo returned the love by presenting the 83-year-old Lagerfeld the city’s highest honor: La Medaille Grand Vermeil de la Ville de Paris.
Below are some highlights from the fall-winter 2017 displays at Paris Fashion Week.
EIFFEL TOWER RAZES THE ROOF
“Does it go through the roof?” asked a bemused fashion insider, pointing up at the ceiling of the Grand Palais exhibition hall.
It was a fair question. The 38-meter (125-foot) replica of Paris’ most iconic monument that greeted Chanel’s couture guests seemed to extend past the famed hall’s glass roof thanks to the illusion of swirling overhead clouds created with steam.
Back at ground level, the celebrities who included Julianne Moore, Katy Perry, Kristen Stewart, Pharrell Williams and Tilda Swinton were shown to green metal seats set up in real sand and gravel.
“It’s extraordinary to come into the Grand Palais, which is awesome at the best of any time, but to stand under the tour Eiffel is extraordinary. Only Chanel,” Swinton said.
The wood and steel tower, which took workmen six weeks to make, was a stunning piece of craftsmanship — copying nearly beam for beam the columns and metal twists of the edifice made by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Universal Exhibition.
If the decor for a 15-minute show seemed over the top, it’s worth remembering that Eiffel’s tower was meant to be a temporary structure and nearly pulled down.
CHANEL GOES TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY
The dawn of the 20th century — the period following the Eiffel Tower’s construction — was the creative touchstone for Chanel’s wintery-looking couture.
The first model strode out in sunlight filtered by wrought-iron columns to set the tone of the graphic, steel-colored collection.
She wore a wide-hipped, charcoal gray coat with exaggerated leg-of-mutton arms — styles that turned the dial sharply to the Belle Epoque period.
This clever historic musing continued with flattened bowler hats and black patent lace-up ankle boots that were popular in the era that ended with the start of World War I.
Flourishing bouquets of plumes then shot out from wrists, ankles and shoulders in evening wear.
“In this collection, there are feathers treated like fur,” Lagerfeld explained.
But the designer relied on myriad references for a show whose one unifying theme might have been simply the Parisienne.
“It’s a vision of a revived Parisian woman. It is all about cut, shapes, silhouettes,” he added.
Signature tweed jackets were reimagined as long tunics, or cropped and double-breasted.
Then it got arty. Mechanical Art Deco motifs gave a 1920s flair to black froufrou gowns that evoked the paintings of Robert Delaunay. Their frothy, flower embellishments at the hem gave the silhouette a vibrant, downward dynamic.
Mini-dresses in tweed, retro bateau collars and bows under the bust mixed in a dash of the 1960s. Thigh-high boots added a necessary hint of contemporary provocation.
KARL HONORED BY PARIS
German-born Lagerfeld was awarded Paris’ highest honor by Mayor Anne Hidalgo for service to the city he’s called home for seven decades.
And there was perhaps no better site for such an award than beneath the Eiffel Tower, even though it was a replica.
“Paris gives you its thanks and its love through this Grand Silver Gilt medal… which is our city’s highest award,” Hidalgo said in front of a celebrity audience, including models Claudia Schiffer and Cara Delevingne.
“From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Paris loves you. You are Paris,” the mayor added.
Lagerfeld, who was a contemporary of the late fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent, has been at the forefront of Paris fashion since the 1960s, designing for Chloe before taking over Chanel in 1983.
Although he doesn’t see himself as French, the designer professed his love for the City of Light.
“I am a foreigner and I intend to stay a foreigner because foreigners see Paris and France through a different eye,” he said, accepting the award.
“And when you are not French, you look without nationalism or patriotism… Long live Paris,” Lagerfeld said.
ALEXIS MABILLE’S VINTAGE COUTURE
The fashion history books seemed to have been consulted on more than one occasion ahead of this season’s couture — with age-old styles wafting in the Parisian air.
French fashion designer Alexis Mabille headed for the 1860s to produce a short, but beautifully executed collection of silk gowns.
Old gold, shimmering white, pale blue, purple and silver brought to life the archetypically “couture” styles rendered in yards of pleated silk fabric, embroidery and thick sumptuous layering.
As was the style in the mid-19th century, gowns came adorned with all the trimmings.
Ruffled sleeves met cascading layers that formed different sections in a wedding cake style. Ribbons were tied around the midriff, and tassels hung off waist-binding belts.
The sumptuous designs might have suited Scarlett O’Hara or any belle of the ball.
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