The rich mosaics, traditional dress and decadent jewelry of the Byzantine empire are the inspiration behind Chanel's Pre-Fall 2011 Métiers d'Art collection.
Karl Lagerfeld on his love of Byzantium:
“Byzantium was an empire which ended in the 12th century. Istanbul is something else. It is an Ottoman city. There is no trace of Byzantium. The only trace of Byzantium which exists is in Ravenna. I went to Ravenna. You have not yet seen the book I did a book on Ravenna, on the few Byzantine vestiges which remain. It was printed by Mr. Steidl on parchment with gold leaf. The city was heavily restored, so finding real vestiges is not easy. You must not forget, Theodora was there in the late 4th and early 5th century.”
With the Paris-Byzance collection, did you intend to make a mischievous parallel between Coco Chanel and Theodora?
Exactly. She liked jewelry with a Byzantine touch, cabochons. We see them on the mosaics and everything. The mosaics are exquisite. But in photos, a good documentary photograph has no life. I think I found a way to photograph them which portrays the emotion of their reality. You will see [in my book]. I do not want to influence you.
Is the idea of mosaics central to this collection?
Of course, in the embroidery. The buttons are square like Byzantine jewelry. Nothing really shines. Everything has a shimmer like mosaics. Mosaics were in lapis, pieces of glass with gold leaf underneath.
There also seems to be some influence from Marrakech.
It is a mixture of all that. The décor, the atmosphere. It is an extrapolation of the idea, of something we never knew. Byzantium is unknown to us. There is little left. A few vestiges remain in the cellars of old houses in Istanbul, but it is not much to look at. The luxury of Byzantium has disappeared. There are a few things in Ravenna but not a lot. The city has somewhat collapsed. Only pieces of the floors remain. It was destroyed by time.
One outfit looked like a crusader’s tunic, black and white with an asymmetric panel.
That crusader’s tunic was in fact men’s apparel at the Byzantine court. They had a large side pock like that. If you look inside the book, I made a reprint in parchment and gold of Theodora with her ladies in waiting and two court gentlemen. The clothes they are wearing have that pocket.
Is there a kind of androgyny about the collection?
It is not a sexually aggressive fashion. Women were very important in Byzantium. They had a way of even dominating men. A man who was not handsome could not succeed. Incredible! There are even university theses on Byzantium. The women led.
Are you still amazed by the embroidery brought by Mr. Lesage?
Fortunately! And the Monteix ateliers, Vermont, and everything. Luckily I love this profession more than ever, and I am also free to do books, photographs and everything. It is that everything which gives me inspiration, which an isolated ivory tower could never provide.
Are these collections are your way of supporting the metiers d’art?
It is simpler than that. This is not a humanitarian act. No one could take over these businesses. That is why Chanel bought them. I initiated this collection for a simple reason of balance. We have two prêt-a-porter collections, one pre-fall and one spring, and the same thing for winter. There is the Cruise but nothing to balance it. I wanted Chanel to have six collections a year, which allows us to renew the stores every two months.
Why the need to renew the stores so often?
It creates balance for a House with a worldwide presence. Our customers want to return often. They do not want to see the same thing as three months ago. We are not a multi-brand label. So we must multiply our own proposals.