Register Monday | December 10 | 2018

Cruisewear for Dummies

The lost fashion season, according to Chanel

When we think of fashion, two major divisions come to mind: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Fall/Winter, of course, is the biggie, the back-to-life period. But there exists another division, the regular seasons' rich, singular cousin. A little-known prêt-à-

porter category, it caters to those who will be in Miami (or Tahiti, or Bali) during the cold months. This is the summer-in-winter collection, croisière. Or to use the slightly less chic English translation, "cruise."

Chanel, with Karl Lagerfeld still at the helm, debuted this year's croisière collection last May on an actual boat, putting around l'Île de la Cité in Paris. In November, Montreal was host to a smaller mini-launch at Holt Renfrew. When I arrived, I found nearly a hundred chairs lining the newly redesigned boutique. There were a couple of editors from the dailies and a few stylists, but it was mostly thronged by the Chanel faithful, dutifully and indefatigably wearing their Chanel sunglasses (very Lagerfeld).

Now, when you attend a show like this, a particular species of moneyed women may also make an appearance. These ladies are overdressed, almost always in black, often gloved, maybe hatted, but definitely heeled. They travel in pairs, with the trip to the department store representing that particular day's work (well, along with the gussying up, the visit to the coiffeur, the drive to the valet parking, as well as the exhausting triad of shopping, lunching, gossiping, and then all of this in reverse).

Just as the head of Chanel Canada took the mike to welcome us all, a luxurious undulation of shiny black fur sailed into the room and docked at an available chair. A regular fur coat this was not, but rather a stunning above-the-knee poncho, replete with tufty pompoms around the base. The bearer of this sheared beast was a perfect representative of the women who dress not just to impress, but to depress: you can't afford the nail tips, let alone the pelt.

The music started up-Nouvelle Vague's suave, serene bossa nova rendition of "Just Can't Get Enough"-and the first model was out of the gate. It was classic Chanel: midnight peacoat blazers with beautiful box-pleated white skirts and, of course, matching signature bags. In a small improvisation on the classic look, the double-breasted jacket was crusted with gemstone colours instead of plain piping along the edges. Though flawless and very fine, the outfits resembled perfectly tailored uniforms, giving off more of a Titanic-meets-wealthy-deck-crew feel than an I-am-an-heiress feel. Would this work on the devoted?

Work it did. Model after model, lots of black and white, silver too. Silk dresses, suits, casual wear. The small crowd was hushed and focused. I realized that we were all falling under the spell of-what? Representations of wealth and power? Chiffon?

Beside me, a stylist named Rad tittered. "I love this song!" he whispered, and I realized we were listening to a jazzily sedated remake of the Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk to Fuck," with the refrain sung lightly by a girl with a flirty voice. Someone at HQ realized it too and quickly changed the music.

A blonde rushed out, looking a bit chilly in her white pencil skirt and camisole; she stopped and turned, one arm confusedly akimbo. The too-young faces of these girls belied their sophisticated hair and meticulous makeup. It was like they were playing dress-up in their mothers' clothes, except nothing was too big (I guess Mom is a size 2 too), and instead of laughing into the mirror, they had terrorized, frozen half-smiles on their faces. I was seated at the end of the walk, where the models took a moment to pose and push out a hip, keeping their gaze fixed on the wall, careful not to lose their balance. I was so close to them I could see them trembling in their high-heeled shoes.

Finally, the show closed with cocktail dresses, all black, flowing and weightless. A handful were merely see-through shifts with careful detail stitched at the bust. The girls who wore them bared their small breasts as best they could, their black G-strings the boldest part of the outfit. Whoever plans to don these dresses had better be going somewhere sweltering and remote. Though I couldn't help but wonder if Lagerfeld would approve of the G-strings showing so garishly. I looked around to see if anyone else registered concern, but couldn't tell. The crowd had perfected an aloof disposition, only occasionally nodding slightly.

After the show, the air kisses. One woman exclaims to another, "You look unreal!" and some of them actually do. From the nip-tucks to the perma-tan, the après-show is artifice in action, with the compliments as false and stretched as the foreheads.

Nonetheless, the champagne was flowing and I was discreetly stuffing my face with hors d'oeuvres. An entirely new platter made its way toward me: a symmetrical arrangement of violet orchidlike flowers filled with foie gras. I plucked one from the tray and then hesitated: was I supposed to stuff it all in my mouth? I looked around and spied someone eating the whole thing, stem, petals and all. So I did as I saw done, and down the hatch with the flower.

One of the very few under-45ers had brought her toddler along. In a moment of "Did someone really just say that?", one of the cinch-grinners glozed, "Oooh, the perfect accessory!" The babe's shoulder-buttoned oatmeal sweater was cashmere, and I'm pretty sure the puny socks were too.