Musée Karl

Earlier this week the fashion industry descended on Paris for the capital’s annual Spring-Summer 2014 ready-to-wear shows. As with every season the hype around high-end labels whose heritage is rooted in the City of Light makes for high expectations. Luxury markets continue to defy a precarious economy; the fashion month across London, New York and Milan all positively contribute to the predictive economic barometer, however it is the finale in Paris, home of the highest concentration of the world’s leading luxury brands, where spectacle as well as style takes to the catwalk.
The House of Chanel is synonymous with the French capital and since his instruction as its Creative Director in 1983, so is the name Karl Lagerfeld. Chanel is one of the last iconic fashion houses to remain a privately held company and this privileged status has granted Lagerfeld carte blanche to envision and materialise both ready-to-wear and couture collections for over two decades. Every season Chanel resides within the ornate Beaux-Arts style of the Grand Palais, playing host to extravagant sets and theatrics that have earned Lagerfeld a following beyond front row fashionistas, to a greater audience in awe of both contextual breadth and sheer scale that is dedicated to only a fifteen minute show.
The art world is never too far from the fashion action. From Jeff Koons and Stella McCartney to last season’s Louis Vuitton collaboration with the Chapman Brothers (Game of CorpsesAugust 2013), the contemporary art meets luxury brand equation has proved to be a profitable currency of consumer culture. If designers had any intentions of art collaborations for 2014, Lagerfeld was ready to eclipse the competition with an impressive collection of 75 works of art, installed as a backdrop along the 340 metre catwalk. Ironically, the show overshadowed the departure of Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton the following day – arguably a pioneer of the art-luxury formula who successfully worked with a host of artists including Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Stephen Sprouse to name only a few, during his sixteen-year tenure at the French luxury house.

In the year of the Venice Biennale and with London’s Frieze Art Fair opening later this month, the Grand Palais was restored to its former self as the centre of art and culture through Largerfeld’s contemporary lens. Transforming the space into an art gallery to accommodate his evocative mixed media collection: each and everyone conceived by the designer himself,
“I made everything. I designed it and made small models… it’s not different young artists it’s only one old artist. It’s me”.
Karl Lagerfeld amongst his 75 artworks
Chanel has long been the source for artistic inspiration – the house’s enduring Chanel No 5 scent was screen-printed by Andy Warhol; Tom Sachs transforms its recognisable monochrome branding into killing machines – and it’s no surprise that the designer was inspired to create a collection for his customers to ‘go to an art opening’. 

Art’s infiltration in popular culture through collaboration and accessible limited edition production has created an editorial niche in fashion and lifestyle PR. Damien Hirst is a fine example - a brand in himself with several retail outposts under the name Other Criteria (Money MakerApril 2012). Hirst like many of his contemporaries actively collaborate with the worlds of mass market to bring the art on the walls to the silk around one’s neck to even the dinner plates in one’s home (Fine DiningApril 2013).
On fashion designers Largerfeld explains,
“In the past designers wanted to be socially accepted. That’s not modern anymore because nobody cares about that anymore… now they want to be part of the artwork… but the artwork doesn’t want to be taken for fashion… it’s ridiculous because art is always something with zeitgeist… the only one who understood it was Andy Warhol, who really got the right idea that those things can live together”.
Lagerfeld’s ambitious installation precisely brought art and fashion together in a brazen pastiche of nearly every art medium imaginable. Eric Wilson from the New York Times tweeted the caption ‘The Metropolitan Museum of Chanel’ when confronted with the designer’s homages to Duchamp, Kadinsky, Lavier, Pollock, Oldenburg, Koons, Twombly and Jones. The visual codes of Chanel - camellias, quilting, chains, pearls, boucle and interlocking Cs – were rendered in a mélange of Pop art humour with conceptual execution around themes of sex, politics, power and wealth that would sit comfortably in the Gagosians and White Cubes of this world in what is an art-hungry marketplace. 
The monumental set fed the equally insatiable Instagramers and social media camps who documented a colourful quartet of industrial towers, leather-chained pylons and ladders; graphic canvases emblazoned with the distinctive house typeface; a glossy quilted sumo; an oversized, upturned 2.55 model handbag hung on the wall and a relic of a Chanel No 5 bottle in marble were sculpted in the inanimate style of Claes Oldenburg; large childlike textile sculptures draped adjacent to seductive mannequins in repose à la Allen Jones. Detail is paramount for a brand that battles counterfeit on a global scale and this was no different on set with witty title plaques for each work – High Tension, New Narcissus – that only commanded greater wonder to the impermanence of it all.

Playful, pretty and anything but pretentious was the designer’s intention,
“It’s the spirit of today: of fashion and the world of art, which have a tendency to take themselves too seriously”.
Lagerfeld was bang on the monet with the show’s soundtrack, choosing Picasso Baby by Jay Z, naturellement, that had been performed earlier in the year at New York’s Pace Gallery (Picasso Baby: Art History?, July 2013) to an exclusive crowd of art world cognoscenti. The song is littered with art bombs from Basquiat and Bacon to Condo and Christie’s that only fuelled what must have been an extraordinary experience of art overload once the models began to walk. 
The performance element to Lagerfeld’s vision was the moving colour palette charts that decorated dresses and accessories throughout the 90 looks in the collection. Art references continued with Pointillist make-up, Chanel-branded paintbrushes and sketchbooks as well frivolous leather-quilted art portfolios that will no doubt cater to next year’s art school trustafarians.
Leather-quilted art portfolio for art school trustafarians
Lagerfeld has been quoted to say his artworks were not for sale however just as followers of fashion will subscribe to the waiting list for the IT-accessory of the show – an earphone-shaped necklace with giant faux pearls – so may art aficionados express their interest in Musée Karl.

Will this year's Frieze Art Fair have the pleasure of Mr Lagerfeld's critical eye? When asked by Style.com’s Tim Blanks what he was collecting these days, the eighty-year old designer, ever nonchalant, replied, ‘books. I have no space for art’.

View details of Chanel's Spring-Summer 2014 show at chanel.com

Images courtesy of Chanel, Style.com, @jackie_frank, Associated Press & Getty Images