It is my firm belief that life is not worth living if we cannot, at regular intervals, encounter parallel realties so different from our own that we may as well have been reborn as four-eyed midgets in some distant Star Trek galaxy. It is good to jump headfirst into an ocean of someone else’s illusion, just to remind yourself that everything you take for granted is only as real as your desire to believe in it. We build our sturdy homes and social safety nets, surround ourselves with friends and bank accounts, virtual and real – but we may as well have been building castles in the sand, or gigantic windmills in the Grand Palais… which is exactly what Karl Lagerfeld did a few weeks ago, for Chanel’s Spring 2013 fashion show.
Being a complete outsider to the fashion world, I got an invitation through a distant connection. I knew I would see something different; perhaps get a quick jolt of second-hand glamour – a pick-me-up I could use after staring at web developers for days on end. I stuffed my little Leica in the only Chanel object I own – a beaten-up chain bag picked up at a friperie years ago. I figured a camera would make me look busy – a handy trick when attending an event where you know no one will recognize or speak to you. And it was an excellent idea. From the moment I entered the Grand Palais, swallowed up by the gigantic white womb Kaiser Karl had painted a day before, with monumental white windmills towering above everything and spinning along to a hypnotic electro sound, I could not put the camera down. It was as if I just woke up in a movie, a sci-fi vision of something done a long time ago, a dream unrolling in front of my eyes, unreal to such an extent that I thought nothing of taking pictures of everything and everyone, as if they were wax figures in the Tussauds museum.
I came an hour early, but not a minute too late to capture the actual show, which is the audience coming in and greeting each other. Against the white background of the white seats and white columns and white catwalk, I took in the half-familiar faces in the front row and the not so front row, the Asian buyers somehow all grouped in one section and wearing bunny ears on either their heads or their iPhones, the strangely unglamorous characters filing in first and proudly filling up their seats, Ines de la Fressange striking a permanent pose which makes her look like a drawing of herself, someone in a plastic trash bag pursued by TV cameras, wildly dressed creatures rushing across the slippery catwalk to blow fake kisses at each other, a Woody-Allenesque photographer who has been covering this for the New York Times since at least two world wars, the woman who you think wears Prada even when she doesn’t and her red-head alter ego, a Hollywood star arriving late and causing a paparazzi massacre… Floating up and down the rows as an absolute outsider, with no strings attached to the rules of this particular world, I kept shooting and shooting, and thinking of the dear maestro Fellini and how he would have cast everyone on this set and then put the set itself in one of his dream sequences, and what a gift it was to see this film unrolling in front of my eyes, because it will never play in a cinema near me.
When the show itself started, it was a non-event. Tiny models wisped through the white space, showing off beautiful clothes only few people on this planet can afford or fit into, and after it was over in a wink of an eye, Karl himself sauntered through the white space, with a swagger of a young sailor hitting a shore and a bemused smile of a wise old man. I stared at him, mesmerized, wondering if behind his dark glasses hides a camera with which he films each and everyone of his actors – the neo-realist comedy he just made in which Who Is Who of the fashion world came to play a part, unbeknownst to themselves. I wondered if somewhere on his shiny phone there was a button to MMS this film to Fellini, who in some other universe would savor this dream sequence, sharing it over drinks with Kurosawa and maybe Tarkovsky. And without being able to put it into words, I understood something about the fashion universe, and decided to never make fun of it again.