A legendary French fashion house and an American hit-maker walk into an Egyptian temple... Okay, it kind of sounds like a setup for an off-color joke, but it’s actually a thing that happened on Monday night, as Chanel staged its Metiers d’Art 2018-19 show in the Temple of Dendur exhibit within New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The clothing reflected the setting and the history, as gold-gilded leather and knits, hieroglyphs, scarab beetles and lotus flowers were all incorporated into the looks creative director Karl Lagerfeld sent down the runway—with a healthy dose of Chanel’s trademark tweeds and camellias, of course.
And in the midst of it all, Chanel collaborator and uber-producer/performer Pharrell appeared, looking more like a post-modern pharaoh in a sparkling gold sweater with an enameled collar necklace and crossover peplum, paired with gold leather pants and boots—and some subtly Egyptian-inspired makeup.
What is the metiers d’art, you ask? As Vogue, who visited Chanel’s ateliers as the show was being created, reports:
Lagerfeld began the Métiers d’Art concept in 2002 as a way to recognize the efforts of the ateliers acquired by Chanel through its Paraffection subsidiary. When founded in 1997, Paraffection had already acquired three artisanal maisons, starting with Desrues, their longtime button supplier, in 1985. Today, there are 26 maisons representing every conceivable fashion expertise, including gloves (Causse), millinery (Maison Michel), goldsmiths (Goossens), and cashmere (Barrie). Paraffection is an elision of par affection, or “with love,” and it’s clear this applies as much to the preservation of such rarefied know-how as to the workmanship itself.
How does this translate to the creations sent down the catwalk on Monday night? As Vogue noted, “the gods are in the details,” specifically, in the embroidery (at a minimum of 50 to 100 hours per piece), hand-stitched and gilded leathers, the tile-like application of feathers, exquisitely detailed jewel-setting, and the perfect hand-pleating that resulted in the “sun-pleated” golden skirts (plissé soleil) that shimmered on the runway.
As for the choice of the Metropolitan’s Egyptian wing as a setting, Lagerfeld noted that “nothing is more modern than antiquity.”And the preservation of the temple site (which dates to approximately 15 B.C.— and arguably had no business being moved to the States 50 years ago) reflects the preservation of the craftsmanship.
“If Chanel had not involved itself in the métiers d’art by purchasing them, today, there would likely no longer be any métiers d’art,” master embroiderer Hubert Barrère told Vogue.
See a sampling of the mastery at work below.