Why is Karl Lagerfeld Staging a Chanel Retrospective?

According to one famed fashion blogger, Tuesday’s Chanel runway show will be staged against a set that is "a retrospective of all the previous Chanel show sets." This could mean one of two things: Either Karl Lagerfeld has a sense of humor and is playing into the current rumor mill-in-overdrive mode of the fashion industry. Or the 82-year old creative director is on his way out.

Let's tackle the potential of Lagerfeld leaving Chanel first, as it seems to be the more popular option, on social media, at least, which is completely unsurprising, as the vast majority of "fashion fans" don't care much for design or innovation these days. They thrive on "it" models, Jeremy Scott-like fashion stunts, and a good round of creative director musical chairs, the latter of which is already underway with a number of big names in the industry. There are the ongoing rumors that Phoebe Philo will leave Céline, that Raf Simons will join Calvin Klein. There is talk that Hedi Slimane is out at Saint Laurent and that Anthony Vaccarello will take his place. There is also widespread speculation that Slimane is leaving Saint Laurent take over for Lagerfeld at Chanel.

But just how likely is it that German-born, Paris-based Lagerfeld, who also oversees the creative direction of Italian design house Fendi, is leaving? From statements he has made in recent years (think: “Why should I stop working? If I do, I'll die and it'll all be finished,” as he told Vogue in 2012) and insider speculation, it seems unlikely. For 82 years old, he's energetic, mentally sound (save for the occasional controversial statements he makes re: "fat" people, anorexic models, sweatpants, etc.), and seemingly in good health. With that in mind, Lagerfeld, who has long maintained that he is happiest while working, is likely to stay at the house, where he took the helm in 1983, for the foreseeable future.

If any part of the talk about Hedi Slimane leaving Saint Laurent, the house he revamped in 2012, to take the throne at Chanel is true, it is more likely him entering the picture in order to be groomed to replace Lagerfeld come his decision to retire or otherwise. This makes sense, in theory, as Lagerfeld is not getting any younger, and the house – which shows six collections per year and which reported 2014 revenue of $7.5 billion and net income of $1.4 billion - needs to have a back up plan. Given Lagerfeld’s reported respect for Slimane’s design sensibilities (he did, after all, famously shed more than 90 pounds to squeeze into one of Slimane's skinny Dior Homme suit), the replacement talk may not be completely unmerited.

Moreover, the rumors that Slimane and YSL have not managed to reach terms to renew his contract with the house and the retrospectives of sorts that are coming out of YSL this season - think: the two part Fall/Winter 2016 collection, including the first half being staged in LA - further suggest that something is up. (More about that here). 

Or Just a Comment on the Zeitgeist?

There is also a chance that this has nothing to do with Karl leaving. In fact, one thing we do know about Lagerfeld is that he is very tapped into the zeitgeist. He has described himself as a sponge, taking in inspiration from every imaginable source, including pop culture and the general state of the industry and the world at large. On one occasion, he said he is like a TV antenna, “I catch everything that is in the air, and then I do it my way.” And such knowledge comes out, at least in part, in his collections.

Case in point: Chanel's March 2014 supermarket-themed runway set. Certainly a comment on consumerism, Vogue Runway (then still Style.com) columnist Tim Blanks, wrote: "An epic celebration of consumerism was also an epic satire of it." It seems that Lagerfeld was also on to something else: the state of the fashion industry, particularly given the influx of fast fashion, the cheap and right-on-trend offerings of Forever 21, H&M and the like.

Fashion - at both ends of the spectrum - has largely come to operate as a source of temporary goods, either because the garments are of low quality (a la fast fashion) or because they are very much devoid of depth due to the overwhelming speed of the cycle and the focus on seasonality/trendiness in order to consistently sell new items.

The days when garments and accessories were treated as valued commodities, purchased for higher costs and kept for many years, and worn repeatedly with pride are long gone. The market for fashion is little more than a supermarket where goods are consumed frequently, in larger quantities and tossed by the wayside in due time. See the connection there? It seems this is likely what Lagerfeld was depicting with the supermarket set.

In this same vein, it would not be terribly surprising if Lagerfeld decided to take on the current state of fashion and its increasingly sped-up turn over in recent years, and the rumors regarding his own impending departure from Chanel, with his retrospective of sorts for Fall/Winter 2016. It would be a good laugh at the end of the day (and a great source of press, as if Chanel needs any more) if Lagerfeld is able to create a fury of speculation as to his future on the eve of his show because that's what fashion fans want. That and Kendall Jenner on the runway, of course.