With exquisite timing on the eve of Nicolas Sarkozy’s handover to the new Socialist president François Hollande, the fashion world gathered at Versailles to watch Karl Lagerfeld play the Sun King to Cara Delevingne’s Marie Antoinette. Well, that was sort of the gist of it—a Chanel resort collection staged at about six in the evening amid the spectacular playing fountains and waterfalls of Louis XIV’s gardens, with the sun blazing in an exceptional burst, after several weeks of dull, drizzly weather. A blue-bewigged and ponytailed Delevingne stomped insouciantly across the golden gravel, heading up a posse of girls in a mash-up of teeny, tiny, pastel-colored pannier dresses, foppish, gilded eighteenth-century jackets, and wholly twenty-first-century variants on denim and shorts. If Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film depicted how young Marie Antoinette’s court looked in the past, this was as if Lagerfeld had imagined what a teenage princess and her entourage might look like today, charging around in brothel creepers in the actual gardens where the Austrian-born queen played out the fantasy games that eventually led to her sticky end at the guillotine.

Lagerfeld has often riffed on Rococo, but he has never staged an expression of his fascination for the era so literally in situ. There was much charm: a play on fichu necklines, straw cartwheel sun hats, and hints of a corseted, ruffly-skirted milkmaid silhouette. Still, despite the historical narrative, there were plenty of Chanel tweed jackets and suits on parade—regular, yet special enough for an older generation to buy into. The breathtaking scale of the entertainment, however, sent Chanel’s audience spinning. Being that it was Monday, the honey-colored palace and its vast vistas of topiary, pleached trees and water gardens were closed to the public, thus creating an enchanted world for guests to wander until they took their cushioned seats in custom-built, canopied pavilions edging a sequestered garden designed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to resemble an outdoor drawing room. Afterwards, champagne and canapés were served in a sparkling glass house, while the world’s press queued for an audience with Lagerfeld. “This was the place where the most civilized frivolity was allowed,” he said. “In the days before political correctness!”

As the euro teeters on the brink, it might not seem quite the moment for an extravagant fete of such an epic scale. But, then again, what could be more utterly patriotic in its graphic delineation of the luxury and skill that sets France apart from the rest of the world? Even as the French administration shifts into a more egalitarian mode tomorrow, there is something in the awe-inspiring pristine white dresses, detailed at the waists with rich imperial red or purple embroidery, that speaks to the common cause of an embattled European country. They preserve Chanel jobs—positions for the skilled workers of the atelier de broderie Maison Lesage—and everything that goes with it: exactly the kind of traditional Hollande says he wants to uphold.


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