Chanel’s Hamburg show a homecoming for Karl Lagerfeld, his collection inspired by German city’s nautical history

Karl Lagerfeld put the acoustics of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall to the test for his latest Métiers d’Art collection for Chanel, a homecoming for the Hamburg-born fashion designer.

The show started with a rendition of seafaring ballad La Paloma, performed by the resident orchestra directed by British cellist and Radiohead collaborator Olivier Coates, continued with a specially composed score by Coates and ended with a thunderous standing ovation echoing in the striking volumes of the futuristic hall.

“It’s like a new international gateway,” British actress Tilda Swinton said of the building, a crest of metal and glass sitting atop a brick-orange warehouse designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, overlooking the harbour of Germany’s “gateway to the world”.

“The creation of this extraordinary concert hall gave Lagerfeld the opportunity to come back and go forward,” she said.

While he has frequently delved into Chanel lore and myth in his work, Lagerfeld seldom, if ever, displays any interest in mining his own history.

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To revisit the city he left as a teenager bound for Paris, the designer looked at Hamburg’s maritime heritage and the sartorial trappings of its merchant class, picking out admiral’s coats and sailor suits, revisited in tweed. Elsewhere, he favoured architecture, a long-standing interest of his, for grid patterns on knitwear: sequins giving a metallic gleam to a grey tweed; or the russet, blue and red palette taken from the region’s brickwork.

To wit, an orange tweed was a take on high-visibility garments, while the Breton stripe – a nod to Gabrielle Chanel herself – was recreated as rows of feathers. Accidental oil spills shimmered on the surface of black tweeds.

Befitting seafaring folk and Hamburg’s reputed harsh weather, there were thick fisherman sweaters – in Barrie’s cashmere from Scotland – quilted satin jackets and fur collars.

Peppered throughout were witty, tongue-in-cheek accessories sure to fly off the shelves: clutches shaped like freight containers, leather accordions, chains galore, a myriad of brooches of steering wheels and anchors. Sailor caps perched on every head, bejewelled, decked with a trailing bow or wrapped in a length of black tulle.

The result was “very Hamburg, a great marriage of [Lagerfeld’s] Hanseatic roots and the house’s skills”, fellow German Veronika Heilbrunner said, as guests got temporary tattoos among the containers of a fish auction hangar, and enjoyed seafood dishes and games.

Earlier in the day, she had visited the old harbour town with Lagerfeld’s close collaborator Amanda Harlech, who created a slim volume of photographs titled The Renaissance of a City and published by Steidl for the Paris-Hamburg collection.

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“There is an incredible sophistication in having craftsmanship of this level, delivered in such a wearable, subtle manner,” said Hong Kong-based lyricist Wyman Wong, who particularly appreciated textural play that could compare to the work of artist Pierre Soulages. For Wong, it felt like “the end of the circle. When you go back to where you begin, a new cycle starts.”

And indeed, there was such a tangible physicality paired with subtlety in craft that the Paris-Hamburg Métiers d’Art collection could also read as Lagerfeld’s commentary on the meaning of luxury in today’s fashion context.

“Wherever people’s hands work in teams, then you have a sense of real luxury,” said Swinton. “It’s a reboot.”

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