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An android, cc1, opened Chanel’s SS17 show at the Grand Palais. She (for it was a she) emerged from behind a motherboard of blinking, flashing lights, the “Data Center Chanel”, wearing a black tweed skirt suit over shiny white limbs. She was joined later by another, cc2, in cream.
In person, the Coco-bots bore a considerable likeness to Pepper, the humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran who so enchanted the Financial Times offices when she visited last year: they shared the same stretched horizontal sweep across the ears, that rather catlike head shape, oversized black eyes and small slit of a smirk.
Unlike Pepper, cc1 wasn’t sticking around to try to make conversation. Her purpose here was not emotional intuition or interaction, it was fashion. Because who needs conversation when you’re wearing bouclé tweed? She made a good model. Perfectly proportioned, the suit fit like a dream. But there were one or two design issues: her smooth plastic hands, for example, looked like chip forks. She must have struggled awfully with the buttons on her jacket. And how on earth would she handle her Chanel sac à main?
Thankfully, such sartorial dilemmas were only silly speculation. Coco-bot was in fact quite human underneath. Instead I wondered how to interpret the droid presented by Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s creative director since 1983. Was it his vision of womanhood in the future? Or was it a warning? Beware the blank-faced automaton, distinguished only by her branded threads: never mind Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s entreaty that “we should all be feminists now”, was Lagerfeld suggesting that we should all be robots?
Doubtful. Lagerfeld has always been a passionate advocate for technological advancement, a designer who pushes the technical skills of the ateliers to their limits in his quest to find new techniques and fabrications. In his personal life too, he’s the king of the gadget — the earliest of adopters. A huge fan of the data age. More likely the droid was a celebration of all things future facing, shiny and new like the best of all toys.
In other ways however, the robot looked like an expression of whimsy — a rather quaint figure from a former era entirely, and a time when computers were still massive and the byte a new conundrum. Certainly, the collection that followed seemed more rooted in the bright futurism of the early 1980s than it was in the world of tomorrow. The monochrome tweeds were interwoven with a rainbow of neons and worn with sideways basketball caps, opaque bauble earrings and Beastie Boy-style pendant chains — bearing camellias. The Chanel jackets were boxy, the checks a little bigger. Patrick Cowley’s electro remix of the Donna Summer classic “I Feel Love” played on the show’s soundtrack, and the collection clipped along to some funky disco beats. It was future fun, data playful — a top was embroidered in a motherboard of beads, multicoloured graphic prints popped like screen savers, a bag flashed up the interlocking CC logo in blinking LED lights.
Eighties themes have emitted a small but significant pulse throughout this SS17 season. The Netflix television series, Stranger Things, a sci-fi thriller which is set in 1983, has felt its influence in every fashion city. A couple of designers have featured the show’s soundtrack, other’s have invited the show’s ethereal young star “Eleven”, the 12-year-old actress Millie Bobby Brown, to sit front row — or cast models who share her wide-eyed, shaven-headed expression. Stella McCartney recalled the “raw like sushi” stylings of Neneh Cherry; at Junya Watanabe, the Japanese designer called on the harder, spikier sounds of 1980s Deutschpunk.
At Chanel, the themes were far less specific (Lagerfeld doesn’t look backwards and hates nostalgia), but his bleeping motherboard set and tweed-suited cyborgs seemed anything but alien. In fact they were terribly sweet.