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At Karl Lagerfeld’s Spring 1993 Chanel Couture, Life in Plastique, C’est Fantastique!

Editor’s Note: Ahead of the opening of “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” at the Costume Institute, we are celebrating his talent by adding five newly digitized archival shows he designed to the Vogue Runway Archive. This one, for Chanel couture, was shown in January 1993 in Paris.

In 1993—the year of grunge—the future of couture in an off-the-rack world was once again being called into question. Though the economy was starting to recover from the recession that marked the first years of the decade, designers were toning things down, focusing less on decoration and more on silhouette and fit. “In the play-it-safe nineties, unadorned simplicity appears to be the answer,” wrote Vogue at the time. (Think “stealth wealth” by another name.)

Tailoring and flou, the binary that defines the couture, came together when Karl Lagefeld paired neat crepe with wafty, semi-sheer chiffon skirts. “I call it ‘transvisual’ couture; images from everywhere are mixed together in one silhouette,” the designer declared. Another pairing of opposites was more conceptual; writing about a navy topper, Vogue reported, “the fabrication was clearly haute couture, Lagerfeld’s light hand in the jacket’s construction had its roots in his ready-to-wear collection for Chloé.”

A passage of tweed coats worn with floral-print dresses and lace-up boots, noted the magazine, was Lagerfeld’s way of addressing “the individualistic spirit of fleamarket dressing.” In many cases crystal jewelry took the place of the more customary gilt and pearls.

Coco Chanel was known for mixing her real gems with costume jewelry, and Lagerfeld leaned into this idea, asking the magic hands at Lesage to embroider on plastic that was turned into pretty pinafore dresses and some giddy finale looks with balloon-shaped overskirts. Lagerfeld always had a sense of fun.