On the penultimate morning of Paris Fashion Week, Karl Lagerfeld presented his fall/winter 2013 collection against the backdrop of a gigantic rotating Earth studded with illuminated flags that represented each of Chanel's 300-odd freestanding boutiques. Models orbited the giant mass sporting jackets embellished with three-dimensional embroidery, boots wrapped in metal chains and fur helmets inspired by Anna Wintour's hairdo – a look that married tough girl with good taste.
It's a look that will be readily embraced by shoppers at those Chanel stores, from Dallas to Dubai. The slick black, white, grey and silver palette will require no convincing and all those jackets have been cut to suit hourglasses and ectomorphs alike.
"The problem is, fashion has to go all over the world," Lagerfeld said after the show, answering questions from a throng of media. "Today, the French luxury business [depends on] the rest of the world."
In other words, it's all about the global market share. Certainly, trends prevailed this season – they included powdery hues, antiqued florals and astrakhan – but it seemed that the creative heavyweights behind the big Paris houses (Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Hermès and Lanvin) knew they couldn't afford to be self-indulgent with their collections. These are all empires, each with its own set of international flags (and customers).
Yet, funny enough, Marc Jacobs eliminated all traces of brand logo, focusing instead on textural richness and a type of decadence that emerged from looks left incomplete.
Coats had been dipped in sequins but were paired with little else, while satin jackets bearing tiny, flocked floral motifs were shown with demure panties. For his "robes de chambre," feathers were cut into decorative patterns and affixed onto tulle. Jacobs took his bow in pyjamas.
Who doesn't dream of rolling into work like that?
That dream actually speaks to a recurring theme. At Rochas, Marco Zanini showed pyjama-style daywear separates in silk and crepe de chine. Dries Van Noten also made a grand gesture out of pyjamas, but the look felt put-together, perhaps because his starting point was Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing cheek-to-cheek. The result was a magically wearable mix of pyjama bottoms, white shirts, flapper-fringed tunics and ostrich-feather skirts.
Those leisure-class looks offset the studied (and beautiful) simplicity of the Valentino collection, where Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli filled their mood board with Delft decorative flourishes and the work of Flemish masters like Vermeer. Let's wait and see how those white portrait collars get styled on fashion girls and celebrities.
For the rest of us, Céline, Kenzo, Giambattista Valli and Stella Mc– Cartney proposed a new work look: slouchy sweaters or dressy sweatshirts matched with formflattering skirts that were updates on a trumpet shape – fitted through the thighs and flared around the knees. The Mugler woman sported a corner-office look reminiscent of a Hitchcock heroine, whereas Roland Mouret's executive will be wearing impeccably tailored dresses with square peplums and boxy jackets reminiscent of Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger .
And don't forget the coat: Miu Miu did elongated ones in navy or covered in black polka dots against comic-book backdrops of pink and yellow (think Mary Poppins at an art opening) and McCartney showed a smart pinstripe down jacket. The season's strongest collections were neither safe nor shocking.
Such was the case at Chalayan and also Hermès, where designer Christophe Lemaire seemed to have finally found his comfort zone: a men's coat in leather or fur, crisp white shirts and a surfeit of sporty pants.
When the Lanvin collection began with a black ruffled party dress and a necklace that read "Help," one wasn't sure whether to worry about Alber Elbaz or chuckle (I chose the latter). The collection was lively and varied: a flouncy fuchsia dress covered in black flowers, a bias-cut tweed suit, a sweatshirt with offset organza flowers, a haunting butterfly print. Like Giambattista Valli, who dressed down his icy, sparkly party looks with Vans-style slipons, Elbaz juxtaposed fancy dresses with flat Oxfords.
Does this luxe wearability signal the future of prêt-à-porter?
Lagerfeld, for one, insists that the notion of a fashion crystal ball is futile. "The future of fashion is six months. I have no vision of a faraway future," he said. But it's easy to see a direct link between a strong retail season and more flags. And so from Paris outward, fashion keeps expanding.