PARIS — “Chain Scale No. 1” read the art gallery label beside a giant cluster of chains; “Russian Gardenia,” with a red “sold” sticker, was what looked like the drawing of a camellia, and “Falling Pearls” was the title of a framed work that had pearl-encrusted double C’s with a heap of fallen baubles on the ground.
Karl Lagerfeld’s take on fashion as art at the Chanel show Tuesday was as witty as it was profound. The 75 “artworks” had all been drawn by the designer and turned into a film set, where the audience, including clients and the singer Katy Perry, wandered through a fake art gallery.
Before a single garment had appeared — not the tweed suits given a thick new weave to fit with the 21st century ethnic mood, nor the exceptional dresses made out of tiny slivers of color taken off a paint chart — the message was right on the modern world.
For who among the audience could resist a “selfie,” taken on a smartphone against images and objects that mimicked brilliantly the Jeff Koons flower vase or the target paintings of Ugo Rondinone.
Mr. Lagerfeld is as knowledgeable about modern art as he is about other cultures. His ability to catch a societal shift, while never stepping too far from the heritage of Coco herself, is unique, impressive and exhilarating.
“Since the days of Andy Warhol, art became a sort of fashion. People wanted to be part of the art world,” said Mr. Lagerfeld, who seemed to take a sly poke at the “artsy” clothes of fellow designers, while his approach was the opposite.
For against this backdrop of abstract “art” or weird and wonderful installations, the clothes were calm and beautiful as the models (and later the designer) walked the long space. Only the music was violent and wild — the Lagerfeld modernity again — as Jay-Z rapped “Picasso Baby” so loudly that the models’ arty blue- and green-decorated eyes blinked and the chains of the double sets of shoulder bags rattled with vibration. A stunned Riccardo Tisci, the designer of Givenchy, who had been invited because the Jay-Z song refers to him, gasped backstage at the overwhelming energy of the designer.
The wonder of this collection was twofold: First, in spite of the set, the “art” did not diminish the clothes; and the collection had artistic elements like complex ruglike knitting, a pink coat that looked like paint-splashed mohair, mixes of lace and mesh, and pants worn with layers of colorful sweaters. Some hemlines dropped to the top of the sock boots that was the Chanel footwear of choice.
Variety, color and texture were as bold as the duo of pearls at the neck that could have passed for headphones. There was choice and invention, yet not a single piece looked like it could not be worn for summer 2014.
For once, a word so often bandied about in the 21st century was relevant to this KL/Chanel moment: awesome.