With the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, it could be argued that the last of the great couturiers has left us. Surely, there have been sequels, with Jean-Paul Gaultier and some others, but alas, times have changed, the era of the greats has now passed. Today young creators are hired by big fashion houses, who are themselves part of large groups having the money and wherewithal to purchase talent. In a world where everything must be immediately profitable, it is nearly impossible to go out at it alone.
My life in Paris took me to the heart of the Chanel empire in 2006, rue Cambon in Paris, in the same building where Coco Chanel lived and worked, and where both the flagship store and haute couture are still found today. I can tell you that entering 29-31 rue Cambon is not ordinary. One has the impression of penetrating the heights of French fashion, higher up just wouldn’t be possible. Rue Cambon where your shoes sink deep into the thick beige carpet, where the pure white walls contrast the black shelves. A world apart reserved for the "happy few". In this shop thirty attendants dressed in black, at the ready to attend to your slightest wish, with the women wearing Chanel perfume so that the customer immediately feels they have passed through to a world apart.
In rue Cambon it was as well the Chinese, middle-eastern or American tourists to name a few but also French and foreign stars and then a slightly more ordinary clientele. An incredible experience or you never knew who went through the door like a Saturday morning when the first French lady of the time came home alone by saying hello. So you had to be prepared for everything.
Along with the regular Chinese, Middle Eastern or American tourists, just to name a few, that visited rue Cambon, there where of course the regular flow of stars and high-society people, but you will also find a more ordinary clientele. One never knew who could come through the front door, as on one Saturday morning when France’s First Lady entered, alone, with a warm “hello!”. One had to be prepared for everything.
Rigor was obviously required at the Chanel store but also in the work of the "studio" where the master worked with his assistants. It was also in the manufacture of all products. At Chanel I worked, as often did over the years, with bags and accessories, and I learned an enormous about the different skins, leather, crocodile python, etc., and recognising the quality of the material was essential. Today I use the same methods with vegetal leather. Recently, and under the direction of Karl Lagerfeld, the house Chanel took its first steps towards the ethical fashion movement by stopping use of exotic skins and fur in the production. But there is still a way to go before Chanel becomes completely "cruelty free".
During my time at Chanel, I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to exchange with Karl Lagerfgeld but he did pass by the shop at times. He was always rather pleasant with the staff and had a straightforward and simple manner, although not always enough to completely put at ease the staff member dealing with him.