Sacred Art: Chanel’s Egyptian-Inspired Métiers d’Art Show and Collection

“In New York, I like the energy, the air, the people, the architecture, the confusion, the mix,” described the late Karl Lagerfeld. The relationship between New York and Chanel has been one of endless opportunity for it was integral to Gabrielle Chanel’s initial success, having been embraced by the city’s department stores as early as 1912. The brand’s longtime creative director was also drawn to the American metropolis for its voracious energy and light he always sought to capture.

Virginie Virad, Karl Lagerfeld, and Hudson Kroenig.

Last December, Lagerfeld honoured this special bond between New York City and Chanel by showcasing the 2018/2019 Métiers d’Art show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—the house’s first New York show in over a decade.

Unlike its ready-to-wear shows, which are held at the Grand Palais in Paris, Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show has served as an opportunity to showcase French craftsmanship on a global scale. Using the work of ateliers acquired by the brand over the last 30 years, the Métiers d’Art runways take place outside the regular fashion calendar and have been shown in various international cities.

Lagerfeld was known to construct out-of-this-world sets for Chanel RTW runways that, in the past, have transported audience members to a beach,
a forest, and even a rocket ship launch. But for this Métiers d’Art show, he instead chose to show his work at the Met’s Temple of Dendur, an Ancient Egyptian place of worship dating to 10 B.C.—after all, what’s grander than a 2000-year-old historical marvel?

Fitting at Chanel Paris-New York 2018/2019 Métiers d’Art show.

With a star-studded front row in attendance, including Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Lily-Rose Depp, and Margot Robbie, the spectacle began. The Egyptian theme was far from subtle, as a song titled “Egypt, Egypt” echoed through the space. Models were dripping in gold from head to toe— especially those who had their legs spray-painted with the luxurious metallic hue. The collection still included Chanel staples, featuring tweed suits and chunky knits, though they were layered overtop long, gauzy dresses. Accessories made various nods to Ancient Egyptian art, including scarab earrings, Usekh collars, and handbags in the shape of pyramids. Chanel ambassador Pharrell Williams emanated a grown-up King Tut as he walked out in gold pants, a long knit tunic, and Eye of Horus makeup.

Backstage at Chanel Paris-New York 2018/2019 Métiers d’Art show.

“Egyptian civilization has always fascinated me,” said Lagerfeld. For
a designer who made a name out of honouring, reimagining, and modernizing the past, it made sense that he would draw inspiration from an ancient civilization that has captivated so many artists—he was a master of making old new again.

Among the references to ancient Egypt was an homage to New York City. Urban prints, designed by French graffiti artist Cyril Kongo, created the effect of New York street art—a modern day hieroglyphic. The heavy denim jackets evoked an eighties feel, the look many women in New York would likely have been sporting when Lagerfeld took the reins at Chanel in 1983.

But it was at the after party where guests were able to get a literal taste of America. The soirée, which saw the chicest greasy spoon temporarily appear in the middle of Central Park, was nothing short of Chanel extravagance. Named CC’s Diner, guests in attendance were able to indulge in burgers and milkshakes while watching a performance by R&B songstress Kelela.

Janelle Monáe at Chanel Paris-New York 2018/2019 Métiers d’Art show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The night was a testament to the kind of magical atmosphere the seasoned designer and creative director could create. In a city that holds so much meaning to the Chanel brand, Lagerfeld left a final indelible mark on its history.

Photos courtesy of Chanel.