Scarabs, hieroglyphs and lots of precious metal: what happened when Chanel brought ancient Egypt to New York

Sasha Slater
Models with legs painted gold wear embellished tweed and carry scarab-shaped iridescent bags - Chanel

Karl Lagerfeld graduated from king to pharaoh last week with a show staged among the ruins of the Temple of Dendur, an Egyptian shrine that was moved from the Nubian desert and now dominates a huge room at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, with views of Central Park. The temple and its setting are a mix of antique and 1970s modernism, and this is plainly what inspired Chanel’s latest Métiers d’Art show. The invitation showed gold scarab beetles and ankhs on a background of retro graffiti, giving the audience a clue to what to expect.

The guests were Chanel loyalists – Marion Cotillard, Lily-Rose Depp – and New York luminaries Jerry Seinfeld and Drew Barrymore. Pharrell Williams – who, say those in the know, ‘would do anything for Karl’ – walked the runway in a gold knitted tunic, gold trousers and gold boots, to cheers and whoops. Kaia Gerber was head-to-toe stonewashed denim. But not any old denim.

Karl Lagerfeld with his fashion studio director Virginie Viard and his godson Hudson Kroenig, who walked in the show Credit: Chanel

The Métiers d’Art, a uniquely Chanel concept, is designed to show off the maison’s different couture ateliers, from those that make tweed and embroider beads, to the one that specialises in fabric camellias. Last Days of Disco-era Manhattan and 15BC Aswan may not have much in common aesthetically but Lagerfeld, like some high-fashion Indiana Jones, joined the disparate threads using Chanel’s well-known codes. Tweed skirts were wrapped around like Egyptian kilts, he showed plastron collars on leather minidresses, there was heavy gold jewellery and iridescent blue evening bags took the form of scarabs.

Pharrell Williams walks like an Egyptian in head-to-toe gold Credit: Chanel

On the morning of the show, Chanel’s president of fashion (what a great job title), Bruno Pavlovsky, announced that the house was to stop using exotic skins for its shoes and bags: ‘Karl told me yesterday he’s found an interesting kind of leather you can get using pineapple fibres,’ he said. So there were no Nile crocodile skins on show, but plenty of croc effect on cuffs and boots. 

The audience included actors Marion Cotillard and Lily-Rose Depp Credit: Chanel

This is a quiet revolution for the maison. Over in Paris, the gilets jaunes are having a much noisier one: torching cars and scrawling graffiti on the Arc de Triomphe. They even broke into the Chanel store in the Rue Cambon. ‘We had a tough Saturday,’ agreed Pavlovsky. ‘The boutique was attacked but luckily no one was hurt. We cleaned up and on Sunday morning opened the doors. I was there, and we had a super day with a lot of customers coming in to show their support. It was a bad five minutes. But only five minutes.’ A blink of the eye, set against 2,000 years of history.