Bonjour Bombay, Paris Ko Dena Pyar, Part Deux

In part one, I looked at the visual vocabulary from both the Moghul and Maratha Empires, scattered throughout the story that Karl Lagerfeld told on the runway of his Paris-Bombay PF12 Métiers d’Art collection for Chanel. That story was also punctuated by a definitive colonial influence from the British Raj in India – the collection was shown over an elaborate high tea setting, for one.

There was, of course, a distinct French flavour throughout the collection as well. Needless to say, it was très Chanel – but the French roots in India run more than a few years back.

With its seven-island archipelago and its proximity to the water, Bombay had become a great place to do business – specifically, for trade. Along with the Portuguese and Brits, French and other European settlers started to set up shop in the 16th century.  I have many thoughts on the colonization of India politically, but let’s keep this discussion about the history as it relates to fashion – namely, Chanel’s collection here, shall we?

The French East India Company established a few initial colonies in the 1600s. Pondicherry was one of the first places they called home, away from home, and the city was still very much a part of ‘French India’ up until 1954.

What I noticed right away were the Pondicherry prints in Karl’s collection – and he put them on garments that will easily transcend borders. They are very Indian, yet they are very French.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Printed Handkerchief Hem Tunic and Pants on
I would love to wear this to a family wedding I have coming up next year. It’s such a simple twist to the typical Indian kurta pajama, but ultra Chanel at the same time.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Printed Kurta Suit on
Strangely enough, this transports me back to a simpler time – before the new India emerged. Thank you, Uncle Karl ji, for not showing halter sari blouses.

All of those chintzes you see in the French countryside and in the decor of traditional English hotels? That chintz tradition started in India – from block printing done by hand. Block printing is still done by artisans in India today and Indian designers like Sabyasachi are part of a new generation of designers there trying to maintain and preserve the heritage of craftsmanship from various regions in the country – not unlike what Chanel has done with the seven couture ateliers they’ve purchased. The Métiers d’Art collection is presented each year, to showcase their work.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Printed Handkerchief Hem Dress on
The tribal jewellery is such an unexpected complement to this handkerchief hem dress.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Printed Maxi Dress on
Taking a chance in chintz at Chanel – who would have thought…

This collection’s historical references, however, weren’t restricted to ancient influences – there were many facets of more recent history making an appearance, too. For example, while we certainly know of Chanel’s black and white treasure trove, the specific instances of it here borrowed a thread or two from the Nehru/Gandhi legacies.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Cream Dhoti Suit on
The dhoti – an ode to Gandhi-ji?

The black and white wide borders, the simplicity of the cut – it’s all very Chanel, but very Nehru, too.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection White Nehru Collar Jacket
The Nehru collar – a trademark of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Black and White Dhoti and Sweater on
Indira Gandhi often wore black and white, also.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Black and White on
So very Chanel but the luxe sweater, the kundan strap, the mirror-work patch pockets recall Indira Gandhi’s style, especially from one of my favourite photos, below.
Jaqueline Kennedy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and John F. Kennedy in India 1962 on
First Families: Jaqueline Kennedy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and John F. Kennedy in India, 1962.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Sari Border Skirt on
I’m a sucker for a wide, gold-bordered, South Indian sari. I love the maxi skirt treatment Karl has given it here.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Sweater and Dhoti Skirt on
An ode to Sonia Gandhi, perhaps?
Sonia Gandhi on
Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of Rajiv Gandhi and current President of the Indian National Congress Party.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Lace Dress and Head Wrap on
India’s future?

The models used in the show were representative of the countries that touched India’s history, too. There were British girls, French girls, Indian girls – and girls who had a blend of many cultures in one blessed gene pool. Lagerfeld is all about the layers of the narrative.

When I first saw this collection video, I didn’t understand the dreadlocks – and then it all untangled in my mind. This was a nod to the ’60s Western fascination with India and the dawning of the curious age along with the Age of Aquarius. Lennon made India hip for many a hippie back then.

The show’s soundtrack included Lennon’s Instant Karma and George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. And the circle of Brit influence is pretty close to complete, ‘innit? Told you Uncle Karl thinks of everything.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection T-Shirt and Indian Jewels on
Not a kundan wearer? Give this piece a chance…

Chugging along the tea table was a train with the double C logo, surely referencing trading routes. India’s first railway, after all, was built in Bombay, in 1853. To me, that train moving back and forth was a connection between India’s past and its future.

This is no coincidence – India opened up its doors to foreign luxury brands in recent years and just weeks ago announced that foreign direct investment in the Indian retail sector be fast-tracked. While there has been subsequent opposition since the government’s initial announcement, the larger issue seems to be around multi-brand retailers versus single-brand retailers – the move towards the latter for the time being, has greater support. Time will tell, but let’s just say the train has already left the station. And remember, the new India travels to acquire the brands she wants, anyway. This collection will be a must-have. Choo Choo for the double Cs to move forward.

Karl Lagerfeld with Freida Pinto at the Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection on
Freida’s been a fixture on the Chanel front row, since her Slumdog Millionaire debut.
Sonam Kapoor at the Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection on
Sonam never met a couture dress she didn’t love. And Karl never met an it-girl he didn’t love.

Every luxe brand and their little bridge line sibling are shifting focus from China to my Motherland these days. India is a hotbed for the haute – and it’s hard for the biz set to ignore the size and reach of the market – and the reach of the deep pockets of India’s uber-riche. These paisa-wallas and paisa-wallis want Valli and Valentino on their labels, not Varun and Vandana from Varanasi (sorry, Lakshmibai, your birthplace doesn’t have a fashion cachet). They want the chic factor of Chanel – and Karl knows it. He is riding that Maharaja Express all the way and the route is bound to be scenic.

The Runway at Chanel's Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection on
A scene to be seen.

What he’s also done is brought a more manageable adaptation of Indian style for Chanel’s existing customers in the West and perhaps extended an invitation for others who bridge east and west to try a little Chanel on for size.

So this isn’t a random occurrence or flirtation. This is an arranged marriage, my dears. The families have been working on this match – and like an astrologer-chosen date, the timing for the union is blessed by the stars. What, you thought all those wedding tikkas on the girl’s heads were a coincidence? (Incidentally, some of them looked more like the size of my sari key chain, than a tikka!)

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Grey on Grey Beaded Jacket Detail on
Indian jewellery – the cause of many a head-turn – and many a headache (at the end of the evening).
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Raspberry Pink Suit on
A bridal hue in the Motherland.
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Menswear Brocade Nehru Jacket and Pants on
A shorter sherwani at Chanel. With Indian wedding season in full swing right now, I am guessing this jacket is on back order already.

What I love about Uncle Karl is how he does things so respectfully. As an aside, this trip of Karl’s is all figurative – the man has never set foot in modern Mumbai or basked in old Bombay – but one only has to have followed his career for a moment to understand that Karl rarely needs to travel to take us places. He is one of the best-read tour guides after all, with over 300,000 books in his personal collection.

Karl knows where he comes from. He visits other places and leaves them as they were, only better. He leaves them with a Karl touch.

The clothes are entirely his and entirely Chanel without a doubt. They are infused with these references from India’s embellished past ever so lovingly, ever so honourably – not there to offend or criticize or minimize in any way – but to bow down, to say namaste ji. So many others borrow and distort the view of a culture, making it either bland or kitsch. Uncle Karl, he really takes it at its essence and interprets it artfully, making it something new instead of clichéd.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Blue Sari Dress on
Bombay’s once blue waters, reflected?
Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Black and Gold Tunic and Pants
I feel like I’ve worn this outfit…in my couture dreams….

In Karl’s India, churidaars become slick, dhotis are to-die-for and the Taj Mahal transforms itself into a Chanel suit.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection Taj Mahal Chanel Suit on
If the Taj were a suit…

There is truly a sharing of heritage in these clothes. The Métiers d’Art collection is an annual showcase of the masterful works created by the couture ateliers that Chanel owns. This year, there was clearly a nod to India’s equally rich history of ornamentation and adornment. As I’ve said before, I think India might even save couture one day, with its army of artisans.

Chanel Métiers d'Art PF12 Paris-Bombay Collection White Chanel Jacket and Baubles on
An example of les petites mains at work.

The word genius has become sort of cliché in fashion. It is the butter chicken of adjectives – it covers just about everything with the same thick, syrupy, gooey mess. This, however, is an occasion where the substance is separated from the neon orange goo.

That show of restraint, that respect for Indian heritage, for history – political, economical and cultural, that honour to the French craft, to Chanel’s legacy, that business savvy and foresight – all of it exemplifies the true genius of Karl Lagerfeld.

That level of genius stops one in her tracks.

Thankfully, she can always hop on the Maharaja Express – and have a Chanel ensemble for every stop en route.

Images: Original runway images for 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11, 19-22 from, modified by moi; Original runway images 3, 5, 7, 10, 13-14, 16-18, 23-24, some modified by moi; 9 Kennedy India visit courtesy of Life Magazine; 12 Sonia Gandhi via NewsIndiaTimes; 15 courtesy of Chanel.

Historical verification via Historical verification via  British Library; MumbaiNet; Wikipedia.

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