Chanel’s runway shows are always greeted with a certain level of anticipation – Karl Lagerfeld is a never content with the mere display of clothes. There is always an extravaganza, some great theme that accompanies his endless reinterpretation of Coco Chanel’s tweeds, skirt suits, tailored jackets and pearl-lined doo-dads. In years past the scope has been ambitious: model emerged out of a 100ft high replica of a Chanel jacket to celebrate its anniversary, or skipped round haybales in a high-end hoedown as Lily Allen lived out her brief country-style phase with a live band. The scale is always enormous and the ambition high. This year, it was all about windmills.
The Spring/Summer 2013 Chanel collection was characterised by its love letter to the wind turbine. The front row was augmented with the enormous white beasts, which rotated softly as the models stomped down the catwalk dressed in the light, grid-like designs with detailing that bobbed and echoed the spinning motions of the propellers.
So What Does This Mean?
Well, dedicated follower of fashion, the first thing that we must acknowledge is the meaning of Kaiser Lagerfeld’s decision is more interesting than his rather enigmatic (charitable: see also under ‘banal’) explanation that accompanied his collection: ““I started to sketch in St. Tropez over the summer and it was so hot I wanted some fresh air.” This is not to disrespect Lagerfeld in any way – it is the right and privilege of designers and artists to be vague and non-committal when it comes to explaining their inspiration. However, let us dig a little deeper…
The aesthetic issue
Let’s start with the surface and work in: quite apart from the sense that renewable energy is ‘in’ right now, what with the rise in Lagerfeld’s native Germany’s dependence and exportation of electricity generated by on and offshore windpower and the increased (albeit equally and somewhat troublingly fashion-y vague) Conservative government commitment to green issues at their latest party conference, it seems there is a purer, more visual element at play here. With their towering but slender form and shiny monochrome exterior, wind turbine look very Chanel. There is a sense that they’ve got the whole look down and Lagerfeld cannot be faulted for finding and exploiting a certain visual rhyme with his collection.
It is also true that not every decision has to be meant for it to be interesting and there is something significant about the use of the turbines this year. It is probably not a sign that fashion is ‘going green’ in the same way that Katherine Hammnett wearing a anti-Conservative T-shirt when she met Margaret Thatcher or Dame Vivienne Westwood shaking bobbing a curtsey to the queen, wearing transparent trousers and an absence of underwear. It is a kind of semiotic game, a scoring of visual and commercial points, that is inextricably bound up in the capitalist consumer-culture it sometimes tilts at critiquing. However, tough fashion might only flirt with specific policy and grand statement, it is densely interwoven with the socio-political climate in which it is produced. Chanel’s runway shows are some of the most amous and most reproduced fashion images in the world. This is the brand that is splashed over the papers when they cover Paris Fashion Week. One can never underestimate the importance of a proliferated image and in this case, the juxtaposition of wind turbines with youth,style, opulence and, crucially beauty. One of the chief mainstream arguments against wind turbines – more levelled at onshore than offshore, it must be said, is that they are a “blight on the landscape,” an offence to the eye. It would be overstating the case to say that their inclusion in a Chanel show entirely rehabilitates windmills in the eyes of a certain strain of the public, but it does, I think, mark a small but significant cultural shit in the way wind turbines could be perceived. A repeated image does not argue, rather it settles, branding itself on a collective unconscious. Karl Lagerfeld is unlikely to continue powering his shows via wind energy – he is already onto the next compelling image. However, in placing wind turbines adjacent to high fashion, he may have done the renewable cause a greater favour then it will ever realise.
Meryl Monkhouse writes about renewable energy and offshore wind.
License: Creative Commons image source
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