16 October 2008

The Talented and Always Baffling Mr. Lagerfeld

The man doesn't cease to amuse. This December, he'll show Chanel's newly conceptualized Paris-Moscow collection at the Theatre du Ranelagh in Paris. And his theory behind the collection?

“I’m mixing constructivism with folklore and Imperial Russia.” Oh yeah?

Since no one dares to ask for an explanation, I'll assume he's not talking about Piaget's understanding of the term, but rather the artistic movement.

In sculpture, painting and graphic design, Constructivism is generally defined as a melding of industrial images and geometric abstraction. As the form evolved, montages became an increasingly important distinguishing element. The photomontages were used in classic paintings, book covers and movie posters. They combined "bold typography and abstract design with cut-out photographic elements. As the product of a mechanical process, the photograph complemented the Constructivists’ commitment to technology, while conforming to the Communist Party’s stated preference for realistic and legible images accessible to the masses."

Here are three constructivist book covers from the 1920s and 30s, all designed by Ladislav Sutnar :


Bold lines, limited use of color, asymmetry - very cool and very easy to identify as an aesthetic theme.

So concept number one, Constructivism, can probably be interpreted into clothing (though it seems more Balenciaga than Chanel.) But, his three concept inspiration starts to confound when you throw in the other words - folklore and Russian Imperialism. All good on their own - and in fact folklore and Russian Imperialism work well together (as a friend said, in a Faberge egg kind of way.) Constructivism, however, was realized and formed as a direct response and in opposition to Russian Imperialism. It was one of the first great artistic movements that emerged after the Russian Revolution. As MoMA helps to explain:
This artistic attitude was a product of the Utopian atmosphere generated by the Revolution and the specific conditions of the Civil War period (1918–21). After 1917, industry and the machine came to be seen as the essential characteristics of the working class and hence of the new Communist order. In practical terms, industrial development was also regarded by the state authorities as the key to political and social progress. Hence, the machine was both metaphor for the new culture under construction and the practical means to rebuild the economy as a prelude to establishing Communism....The artists themselves had been encouraged to believe they had a wider public role to play by their participation in the many official commissions to execute such propaganda tasks as decorating Russian cities for the Revolutionary festivals and designing agitational and educational posters. The utilitarian ethos of Constructivism was a logical extension of this close identification between avant-garde art and social and political progress.
Folklore and Russian Imperialism convey an ornateness and a grandeur that, by definition, can't also be considered Constructivist. So what the hell is he talking about? And why does no one ask? I guess I'll just have to wait till December 3...perhaps he'll convince us that he can make these concepts work together...somehow.

If that's not enough to boggle the mind, the show will kick off with a viewing of a silent film, directed by Mr. Lagerfeld himself. WWD says to "expect a fast-paced, laugh-packed and loose interpretation of Gabrielle ["Coco"] Chanel’s adventures between 1913 and 1923."

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