What do Ancient Egypt and New York City have in common? Without going too deep on that question, we need only look to this week’s Chanel 2018/19 Métier d’art show. Held in the Temple of Dendur in New York City’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, designer Karl Lagerfeld appeared to combine the fast-moving hectic energy of New York with the design motifs of Ancient Egypt.
Chanel and Lagerfeld are not strangers to either New York City or the ancient world. The theme of Chanel’s Cruise 2018 collection was Ancient Greece, although the May 2017 show was held in Paris. The 2005 Métiers d’art collection showed at the 57th Street boutique in New York City and two years later a cruise collection used Grand Central Station for its setting. Just last month, Chanel reopened a newly renovated boutique on 57th Street in the City (read Chanel’s New York City Flagship Has Reopened: Here’s what you can find inside).
The Met Museum’s Temple of Dendur is itself an iconic location. Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus commissioned its construction in or about 10 B.C. One of the most identifiable symbols of Ancient Egypt, it was gifted to the United States in 1965 and awarded to the Met in 1967. It also has been used as a location for arts events, concerts, private functions and films, including the scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where Billy Crystal speaks in a silly voice about pepper, paprikosh and pecan pie.
Shapes and Styles
As is the case with Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, the show location generally dictates the theme of the collection. Chanel Métier d’art 2018/19 was no exception. For fashion and particularly handbags, that means lots of gold (think, painted legs), scarab beetle motifs and graffiti. Yes, graffiti – and it is a nod to Ancient Egypt, not New York City – but more on that later.
Naturally, Chanel showed pyramid-shaped handbags. Both large and small.
Scarab beetle shapes appeared and re-appeared in different fabrications. Some were bejeweled (or not) clutches, others were shoulder-strapped in beetle shape.
Classic and more traditional bags hit the runway too. We glimpsed Boy bags (including the newer elongated style), classic CC flaps and Gabrielle. This was a golden collection – not much silver – in leathers, fabrics and tweeds, and even a pyramid shaped clasp.
Clutches – or at least bags clutched – were prevalent on the runway. Below is one of our favorite and most wearable.
Fabrication, Graffiti and Exotics
The annual Métier d’art show is designed and intended to showcase and honor the masterful craftwork of of Chanel’s artisan partners. Inventive patterns, fabrics, jewels and techniques are typically on display and on theme. This show was no different.
Graffiti adorned totes, flaps and large fanny packs worn cross-body. One little not-so-secret secret about the Temple of Dendur is that its walls have graffiti – historical graffiti. It’s not hieroglyphics of the era, but later. There are a few words in colloquial Egyptian script from about 10 BC, or five years after the Temple was finished. Some Coptic Greek inscriptions date from 400 CE (or AD), when the Temple was briefly used as a Greek church. Lastly, names of travelers or tourists were chiseled into walls in the 1800s. Look carefully and you should find “Leonardo 1820” among others.
Whether the Temple’s graffiti actually inspired Karl, we cannot say with certainty, but it is apropo. It also is reminiscent of Chanel’s Spring 2015 “protest” collection.
Reaction to the show has been mixed. Some of the fashions may be difficult to wear or translate into real life. The gold is quite golden and hardly subtle. Few are likely to gild their legs. On the other hand, the fabrics and adornments appear beautiful.
There also are concerns about cultural appropriation and not having enough people of color on the runway. Listening to short bites of music, one hears “Egypt is the place to be” followed by snake charmer tones. Even Chanel’s new commitment to be exotic-free is challenged – whether the luxury house failed to secure needed skins or ditched a non-performing product are just two of the questions raised.
Perhaps Chanel is just looking for its Mummy.
What did you think about the show and the bags? Will you be investing in this pyramid scheme . . . we mean theme?
Updated: December 9th, 2018