Chanel, Now and Then

Chanel couture
The runway at the Chanel spring haute show in Paris.

Yesterday around 5:30 p.m., I popped in to see Karl Lagerfeld. The studio was moderately crowded: one or two editors parked at one end of Mr. Lagerfeld’s big desk and several Chanel executives at the other. Models—Freja, Snejana and a new young woman who announced that she was from Omaha, Nebraska—were in the second room getting organized for their fittings. The mood of the collection, which will be presented tonight around sunset in the Grand Palais, is somber and romantic, with black lace and gold, and short hemlines with a long panel sometimes at the back. Long, according to Mr. Lagerfeld, looks old.

There may be a recession but the last place on earth you’d notice it is at Chanel. “We make a lot of money,” said Mr. Lagerfeld, squinting behind his dark glasses, as if this fact were as plain as the Eiffel Tower. He is sometimes in a mood to talk about Coco Chanel, whose life and capacity for survival never seem to bore him, and last night was such a time. He recently published (with Steidl) a book of photographs by Douglas Kirkland called “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel Summer 62.” In his text, he observes how Kirkland’s pictures in the house and on the Rue Cambon remove “from her image all its evils and the bitchy side popular imagination has attached to her persona.” The summer of 62 was, in a way, he wrote, “her last summer as the queen of fashion. Jeans and miniskirts were on their way to invade the world. Hating them and letting people know publicly how much she loathed the fashions to come she put herself instantly in the position of the has-been oracle of style and fashion.” He says 40,000 copies of the book have been sold.

Chanel couture
A piece from the Chanel haute couture collection in Paris.

I asked Mr. Lagerfeld about the new collection, about staying current, and about those blog reports that he would leave Chanel and be replaced by Alber Elbaz of Lanvin. Mr. Lagerfeld said to forget about it. He was going to die with his boots on. He also mentioned that Alain Wertheimer, whose family owns Chanel, said he would sell the house when the designer leaves. This might not be the case, Mr. Lagerfeld said, but it was a nice thing to be told.