Chanel paid a classy tribute to Karl Lagerfeld as it presented his final collection at the Grand Palais in Paris, the scene of some of the legendary designer's greatest triumphs.
With fashionistas and Hollywood stars Kristen Stewart and Marion Cotillard in mourning black – and Penelope Cruz on the runway – Chanel turned the Grand Palais into an Alpine wonderland for the show.
The vast vaulted venue where the "Kaiser" loved to stage his mega-shows became a set worthy of Lagerfeld at his showman best, with a dozen chalets with smoking chimneys and drifts of springy artificial snow.
The workaholic creator, the most prolific of the past century, died aged 85 on February 19, less than a month after missing a Chanel haute couture show at the Grand Palais.
The tribute began with models gathering on the steps of the grandest chalet to observe a minute's silence in honour of the German-born dandy who led the iconic French house for nearly four decades.
In something of a minor miracle in a world where the smartphone rules, not one rang.
Then Lagerfeld's voice was played, with him recalling how Britain's Queen Elizabeth II said that arriving at Chanel was "like walking into a painting" – something which could equally be said of the set of his final show.
Wit From The Grave
Next was a flash of the razor wit that won Lagerfeld so many fans – and foes.
"When they offered me the job (at Chanel)," Lagerfeld lisped, "Everyone told me, 'Don't take it, it's rubbish, it's finished.'
"When they offered it a second time I accepted because everyone was saying that it couldn't be done and would never work..."
Thirty-seven years later Chanel is the second most profitable luxury brand in the world with sales of US$9.62bil (RM39bil) in 2017.
The iconic fashion house most closely associated with the designer dubbed "the Sun King of Fashion" set an upbeat tone for the show from the start.
Guests including actress Monica Bellucci, South Korean singer Jennie Kim and supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, were given a drawing by Lagerfeld of him with the brand's founder Coco Chanel bearing the legend: "The beat goes on."
Lagerfeld's friends had insisted that the famously straight-talking creator would have detested a lachrymous display of grief.
Tears On The Runway
A few tears did fall at the end, however, when the models returned arm-in-arm to David Bowie's anthem Heroes and its rousing chorus "We can be heroes".
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz valiantly tried to keep spirits up, smiling broadly as she walked with them in a snowflake feathered frou-frou dress carrying a single white camellia, Coco Chanel's favourite flower.
Lagerfeld's successor Virginie Viard appeared for the briefest of bows at the end, with Chanel saying later that the collection was a joint effort between her and Lagerfeld, who had leaned heavily on her in his later years.
The Autumn/Winter 2019 line began with actress Cara Delevingne wearing a black and white hat and coat in an outsized houndstooth pattern with big bell bottom trousers, which were were repeated throughout the collection
A series of rustic Alpine and Scandinavian pattern skirts and jumpers worn with shearling-edged climbing boots followed before a line of fuchsia-coloured ski jackets and streetwear segued into white evening wear.
Little known to the general public, Lagerfeld called Viard his "right and left hand", and Chanel's owners moved swiftly last week to scotch rumours that her time as head of the house would only be temporary until they line up another big name.
In a statement, the Wertheimer family confirmed their "confidence in the team that worked with Karl Lagerfeld for over 30 years".
Viard – who comes from an upper class French family with links to Monaco's royal family – will effectively be joint artistic director with longtime executive Eric Pfrunder, who will look after the brand's image.
Before Lagerfeld's death, Chanel's global fashion chief Bruno Pavlovsky laughed off rumours that the British designer Phoebe Philo, formerly of Celine, was being groomed to succeed Lagerfeld. – AFP
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