PARIS — Karl Lagerfeld is a showman, a provocateur, a man of the social media age. Whether he is serving up biting opinions about Adele, mischaracterizing Meryl Streep’s relationship with design houses or envisioning the staging of a runway show, the Chanel creative director knows how to capture our attention and set Instagram on fire.
The company’s elaborate sets in the Grand Palais have included a Paris bistro, an airport terminal, an art gallery and a grocery store. This time, after guests made their way past security checkpoints that included bag checks and identification inspections, they entered the vast exhibition hall to find a Chanel rocket centered on a launch pad. Soaring several stories towards the sky, rocket looked like a NASA specimen from the 1960s. It was surrounded by industrial-looking cubes with looping ducts and ventilation shafts. Blinking “radio towers” rose up between the landscape of bleachers.
The set was not so much a celebration of our current era of space exploration, in which tourist flights to Mars are the dream, but rather a look back, when scientists still puzzled over the chemistry of the Moon’s soil, and “The Andromeda Strain” was man’s great existential fear.
This collection, rolled out to Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” was defined by the boots and bouffants of the 1960s -the years when fashion was shifting away from the reserved style we saw in “Hidden Figures” to the iconoclasm of the Youthquake.
This collection included glittery knee-high boots, structured shift dresses and squared-off jackets sprinkled with sparkles. Some dresses were practically blinding — constellation patterns, Milky Way galaxies, starry night images. There were more contemporary, sporty gestures, too. They included silver backpacks, hoodies and dresses emblazoned with moon-man prints, silver trousers and quilted wraps that suggested astronaut blankets.
It was a fun and delightful collection in which the theme-park atmosphere added to the joy. There was also a mood of hopefulness in it. Perhaps it was that the show served as a full-throated distraction from the many grim matters here on Earth. Or maybe it was the child-like optimism that can fuel dreams about spaceships and space travel.
As the models made their final march around the runway, Lagerfeld took his bows and then — with the help of his godson Hudson Kroenig, who had walked in the show — pressed a bright red launch button to begin a countdown. Smoke swirled around the bottom of the rocket. Lights blinked and the rocket’s engines glowed. Then it appeared to lift off — the ship’s tail end retracting towards the nose and towards the glass roof of the Grand Palais. And the audience cheered at the sheer kitschy, indulgent audacity of the spectacle.
The lyrics to “Rocket Man” are a bit melancholy, exploring loneliness and isolation. And the song observes how even heroes and celebrities are subject to the same moments of wistfulness as those who live their lives in near anonymity.
But when the engines on a faux rocket ignite and the whole thing appears to lift skyward at the command of a ponytailed octogenarian, for at least one full minute there is nothing to do but smile.