For 2017, Chanel is embracing tech

 16 Oct 2016 - 16:59

For 2017, Chanel is embracing tech
In his work for Chanel's spring clothes, designer Karl Lagerfeld focused on the innards of our computers - the data, the algorithms and microchips - instead of the gleaming exterior. (Olivier Claisse, MCV Photo)

By Robin Givhan / The Washington Post

PARIS:  Exquisitely beaded lanyards, tweed baseball caps, luxe laptop bags - are these the trinkets that can satisfy the Chanel customer who fancies herself a tech geek as well as a fashion fiend? They were on the runway alongside an array of dresses in blown-up motherboard prints and jackets that seemed to be woven from coloured wires and lights.

In his work for Chanel, designer Karl Lagerfeld has commented on the wonders of technology before, but for spring 2017, he focused on the innards of our computers - the data, the algorithms and microchips - instead of the gleaming exterior.

For some time, fashion has been been trying to sort out its relationship with technology, trying to figure out the ways in which computer chips and sensors tucked into clothes can improve our lives, or at least make them more interesting. But beyond the basics - fabrics that excel in keeping us cool or warm - technology and fashion are essentially passing acquaintances. Sometimes uncomfortably so.

Indeed, the designer Hussein Chalayan, in a collaboration with Intel, showed a spring collection in which models wore glasses that picked up their breathing and heart rate and transferred that information to their bulky belts. The data was then broadcast onto a screen so that the audience could get a gander at the models' stress levels as they walked by. Which leads one to wonder: Do you really want to know how stressed you are going into a meeting with your boss? Don't you already know?

Such technology may, in the future, prove indispensable. Who knew that the ability to photograph every morsel of food you put into your mouth would become so essential to the dining experience? Meanwhile, applaud Chalayan for his intellectual curiosity, ignore Intel's high-tech fanny packs and just take a look at the clothes, which were quite nice with their easy fit, elongated sleeves and slightly oversize shoulders.

If the technology aspect at Chalayan was inelegant science and no art, at Chanel, it was all art. Or at least artful commerce.

The experience of a Chanel runway show is, even by fashion standards, extreme. Women - and men - fetishize Chanel in a way that fans of other brands do not. They arrive draped in Chanel jackets, skirts, brooches, bags, hats and perfume. Even the singer Usher, who attended Tuesday's spring 2017 presentation, was costumed in a black Chanel jacket bedecked with braided trim and brooches and with the double-C logo in crystals on the back.

There is a look-at-me vibe at Chanel that is particularly striking. This season, a flock of young women wafted into the Grand Palais, each trailed by her own photographer. Accompanying stylists proceeded to fluff and powder them for their close-ups; the other guests were just a bunch of extras on the set.

Chanel is mainstream luxury, meaning that people know the name, associate it with high-end cache and understand its vernacular. You do not have to be in the know to know Chanel.

Lagerfeld has kept Chanel churning by injecting it with the mood or the story line of the day. (Chanel weathered the recession just fine, but recently profits have dropped.) Tech is currently the story. So Lagerfeld makes that connection. He gives his customers the sense that they are in on the fashion and technology conversation. That they are forward-looking.

But he doesn't let science get in the way of the dresses, the jackets or a few good gewgaws.