When Karl Lagerfeld decided to unveil the Chanel Resort 2015 collection in Dubai, home to the world’s tallest skyscraper. The show unfurled at dusk in a gold-and-glass structure, its roof supported by a forest of artificial palms, on a man-made island offering a view of one of the most futuristic skylines in the world.
“A romantic idea, without any folkloric touch, of an Orient of my imagination of the 21st century,” was how Lagerfeld described a collection built on gauzy fabrics and flowing, enveloping silhouettes — lit up by intricate metallic embroideries and dense patterns.
Although founder Gabrielle Chanel had scant ties to the Middle East, her penchant for Oriental textiles like gold lamé — and layering tunics over pajamalike pants — was enough to spark Lagerfeld’s imagination. Arabic paving stones and tiles from the 11th and 12th centuries inspired graphic motifs on filmy scarves, or gleaming and colorful embroideries on a swing coat. Quirkier Middle East touches included quilted leather handbags shaped like jerricans — a wink to the region’s oil riches.
“My job is not to do what she did, but what she could have done,” Lagerfeld explained. “The good thing about Chanel is it’s a spirit you can adapt to many things.” The show had a dreamy, otherworldly quality apt for Dubai.
Like the city itself, Chanel’s oasis set, which took two months to construct, rose from a rectangular patch of bare sand about a half a mile from shore. There were palm trees, cactus and henna plants; beige Bedouin tents appointed with cushions, rugs and water pipes; and, for the runway venue, a lattice of woodwork incorporating Chanel’s logo as in traditional mashrabiya windows.
Celebrity guests, ferried to the venue in rickety, open-air boats known locally as abras, were captivated by the setting — and the clothes.
While the collection skewed dressier and more elaborate than some recent Chanel cruise outings, flat sandals — and groovy Marisa Berenson circa 1970 hairstyles — projected an attitude of nonchalant, bohemian glamour. Layered looks prevailed, including blousy versions of classic cardigan jackets and slim-lined dresses and tunics resembling the thawbs (or dishdashas) worn by Arab men. The collection was modest and respectful of local dress customs, which prize modesty, although Lagerfeld noted he rarely veers into Crazy Horse territory. “We don’t really do sex explosion here,” he deadpanned. Lagerfeld wove keffiyehlike patterns, the ones found on traditional Middle Eastern headdresses, into Chanel’s signature tweeds, and the floral tile patterns into long cardigans.
Looking ahead, Chanel plans to explore its potential with couture in the Middle East, and possibly bring its collection to Dubai for order-taking in the next year or so, as it does in New York and Asian capitals. “Wherever we have a large customer base, we know we have an opportunity with haute couture,” Pavlovsky said.