Chanel: a distorted reality

November 17, 2010

By Caroline Brown

Chanel – a label synonymous with luxury, a look that only the most sybaritic of people wear and even the most pretentious of women try to afford. Owning Chanel is like possessing a little piece of that envious dream. That, I never needed to work a day in my life, I’m flying to Miami this weekend, meet me in Japan on Tuesday, kind of jet-setting lifestyle.

In the 80s, Chanel was mostly associated with women born into royalty or old money, and the many wealthy women of New York. As quoted by Anna Wintour in 1988, Chanel was simply “fashion without screaming fashion.”

When Karl Lagerfeld took over Chanel’s ready-to-wear line in 1984, he decided to make it “Return to the Classic,” an idea he has been playing with ever since. Twenty six years and a thousand different tweed suits later, the house has come far, but not because of its originality with silhouettes or fabrics, but because of its branding.

Yes, Karl Lagerfeld made the clog shoe popular, I will give him that… Because they go with everything I wear. However, the faux fur look wasn’t his clever idea unlike, for example, Stella McCartney and her Fall 2007 Collection, where the designer took dense rings of hand-tufted yarn and turned them into the look and feel of fur. I like to think that Karl Lagerfeld did his entire show in faux fur, not for fashion, but to ironically throw it in the face of PETA. Did it make faux fur popular? Yes. Did it make real fur even more popular? Of course. A plan that, I imagine, was devised with the help of Anna Wintour, considering her friendship with Karl and her love for fur…

His groundbreaking ideas don’t seem to be associated with the fabrication of his garments anymore, but with his use of publicity. With each fashion show, the front row becomes increasingly invaded with celebrities, and not just the run-of-the-mill celebrities, but the hottest IT people. In the last couple of years, Blake Lively, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Alexa Chung, Jessica Alba (this one perplexed me as well), Leighton Meester, Keira Knightley and even Prince have all been seen in the front row of Chanel’s fashion shows. Karl is creating quite the entourage, isn’t he?

In recent years, his extravagant shows and choice of locations (some guest lists reaching close to a thousand people) have become the point of spotlight for the media. His face has been silk-screened across T-shirts, and the house introduced four Chanel Ambassadors to the world. Their job? To promote Karl’s “new ideas,” such as the line of temporary tattoos. They also attend each show and can borrow any clothes straight from the runway. I can’t even imagine how many people are jealous of that position…

With all this media attention for the house, I am sure that Karl’s mind has been crossed with the idea that he too would become quite the celebrity. Perhaps, that is a dream from his days of being overweight, when he tried so hard to fit into the Hedi Slimane suits and also fit in with the super skinny celebrity fashion scene?

With Karl exploiting celebrities to the house’s advantage and having a constant need to upstage his own publicity stunts, is Chanel becoming fashion’s own Lindsay Lohah…minus the no talent part? Will the brand lose all its luster and exclusive feel with the general public, just like Louis Vuitton lost with its logo bags? And, most importantly, is Karl Lagerfeld becoming a parody of himself?

Caroline Brown is a fashion blogger based in London, UK. Her blog can be found at


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