Creations of a Dream World: Karl Lagerfeld's Best Chanel Runway Shows

By: Beverly Abellanosa

As we mourn the loss of one of fashion's greatest designers, it is important to acknowledge and recognize the momentous impact of Karl Lagerfeld's creative vision on the industry. Though he is rightfully hailed for his extravagant designs that transcend the constrictions of contemporary trends, his creative vision has also contributed to transforming the catwalk into a social media spectacle complete with elaborate sets, accompanying music, and a polished ambiance.

Under Lagerfeld's vision, the Grand Palais has been transformed into a waterfall, a supermarket, an airport, a carousel, and many more grandiose creations. Nevertheless, it is also important to recognize the very people who have brought his visions to life. Throughout the course of Lagerfeld's tenure as creative director of Chanel, he has employed the likes of Es Devlin, Stefan Lubrina, Stefan Beckman, and countless others to design and construct these dream worlds.

 Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2018
Photo: Vogue UK
The majestic waterfall set was composed of a 50 foot tall and 275 foot wide stretch of polystyrene panels, complete with six points of descending water and surrounding vegetation. The entire set took two months to build and nine days to install. The idea for the set and the collection was derived from the dynamic movement of water.

Chanel Ready to Wear Autumn/Winter 2017
Photo: Elle
After sparking inspiration from the Space Race of the Cold War Era, Lagerfeld based his collection on 60's Space Age futurism with his models sporting space cadet looks composed of Mylar-looking space blankets along with astronaut and animal prints. In order to complete the ambiance of the show, he commissioned a Chanel-adorned rocket to launch at the end of the show while Elton John's Rocket Man blasted through the Grand Palais. The rocket set itself took six months to build and when asked why he wanted to go to outer space Lagerfeld jokingly responded, "It's not that great down here for the moment."

Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2015
Inspired by his upbringing, Lagerfeld paid homage to his mother and the feminist movement by staging a demonstration on Boulevard Chanel complete with apartment buildings, sidewalks, puddles, and models toting feminist signs, an idea he conceived merely twenty-four hours after his last collection. The political subtext of this collection would soon inspire other designers to follow suit with politically intertwined shows such as the Balenciaga Winter 2018 collection.

Chanel Couture Spring/Summer 2008
As guests entered the Grand Palais for another remarkable Chanel collection, they were greeted by a monolithic concrete-casted Chanel tweed jacket. The monument was constructed as an expression of the timelessness of the iconic Chanel tweed jacket the brand is most famous for. Through Lagerfeld's creative vision, the Chanel tweed jacket has managed to maintain it's classic silhouette while remaining consistent with contemporary trends. This juxtaposition was further highlighted by his models who wore ballet flats, Alice bands, and short dresses.

Chanel Couture Autumn/Winter 2010
As a means of paying tribute to Gabrielle Chanel, a Leo, Lagerfeld installed a Herculean lion with its paw resting on a Chanel pearl, from which the models emerged, as the centerpiece of his runway. Further contributing to the bravery symbolized by the lion, Lagerfeld's collection consisting of brazen designs.

Chanel Couture Autumn/Winter 2017
For this momentous collection, Lagerfeld installed a replica of the Eiffel Tower inside the Grand Palais complete with a misty sky and a sand and gravel runway. Following the show, Lagerfeld was awarded Paris' highest honor the Medaille Grand Vermeil de la Ville by Mayor Anne Hidalgo and hailed as a true Parisian.

Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2006
With the global takeover of the iMac and the fast-paced communication brought on by high-speed Internet, Lagerfeld planted a gigantic Chanel computer along with a keyboard in order to symbolize the technological revolution.

Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2019
©Harper's Bazaar
To truly showcase the relaxed nature of his spring/summer collection, Lagerfeld had the Grand Palais filled with sand, fake waves, a lifeguard, and a boardwalk to create the illusion of a tranquil vacation. The mood was only furthered by the overall relaxed ambiance complete with music and models walking barefooted toting their sandals.

Chanel Ready to Wear Autumn/Winter 2014
Instead of having models simply showcase his looks up and down a runway, Lagerfeld had his models peruse a Chanel supermarket complete with Chanel shopping carts, bread loaves, eggs, detergent, cheese, and ham. At the end of the show, guests were allowed to take home some of the items for themselves. As for the reason why he chose to construct a supermarket, Lagerfeld replied that the grocery store was constructed to make a modern statement of expensive things as a supermarket is a thing of daily life and "even people who dress at Chanel go there."

Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2016
©Alessandro Garafalo
No stranger to the use of airplanes in his shows, Karl Lagerfeld once again employed the use of aviation to fully convey the ambiance of his spring/summer collection through the construction of "Chanel Airlines." Guests entered through Terminal 2C Gate No. 5 to watch passengers and hostesses parade ninety-nine looks.