The Grand Palais, the storied late 19th century Parisian landmark that now serves as a museum and exhibition hall, has a rich history as a makeshift hospital and resistance headquarter during wartimes. In the 21st century, Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at Chanel, now uses the storied space to pen tales of his own, using it as the only space Chanel is presented when the shows are located in Paris.
The huge open space in the main hall is capped with a magnificent windowed dome, its Beaux-Arts architecture needing no help in creating a breathtaking space. Lagerfeld, never to be outdone, takes the space and molds it into something recognizable season after season. Quiet forest scenes, post-apocalyptic theatres, arctic wastes, Chanel storefronts, a Parisian alleyway; name it and odds are Chanel has done it.
This list of 13 ranks Chanel’s best sets in the Grand Palais (and beyond). We’ll explore the lengths that Chanel has gone to highlight is best assets and inspire awe among its consumers. These go way beyond publicity stunts, and honestly, only Chanel could pull them off.
13. Fashion Conquerer
The Place Vendôme is steeped in history in its own right, but its relationship with both Chanel the woman and Chanel the brand makes that history even more complex. The moody set of the Fall 2011 Couture show was a reflection of Chanel’s relationship with the square. A neon and black bedazzled model of the Place Vendôme was a sobering backdrop to the muted colors of the collection. The square’s shape a keen reminder of the vile that holds Chanel No. 5 and the luxury watches still produced by the house today. The iconic statue of Napoleon was replaced by Gabrielle herself, a testament to her monumental influence on modern fashion.
12. Gone with the Wind
Inspired by the design of these updated windmills and topical as ever, Lagerfeld brought giant turbines indoors as centerpieces in his Spring 2013 ready-to-wear collection. As models walked the runway – which just so happened to be a giant solar panel – guests were shocked by the second jumbo-sized surprise of the event: hula-hoop sized beach bags that starred as internet memes for months. But hey, go big or go home. Am I right, Karl?
11. When in Rome
Karl Lagerfeld boasts a lot of power in the fashion industry, but can you imagine pitching the idea to hold a show in Rome that is a mock of the streets of Paris? Seems unnecessary at best, but who can say no to Karl? A dream location of a dream location in a dream location. A fashion Inception if you will. Chanel’s Métiers d’Art (Pre-Fall) collection for 2016, the lone show on this list not held in the Grand Palais, took place in Rome on a movie set designed to look like a black and white Parisian neighborhood. Models emerged from the Paris underground to skulk by storefronts and cafes where showgoers sat engulfed by the sensory experience around them. It was beyond over-the-top.
10. All Aboard
Boats are always known for being extravagant, and leave it to Chanel to take it to the next level. This miniature boat erected in the heart of the Grand Palais was the backdrop for the 2019 Resort presentation, but was much more functional as the after party location. It seems a waste to build a boat and not have a party on it.
9. Scent Memories
Chanel No. 5 is touted by the brand as one of the “first of its kind,” its popularity and longevity in the perfume market is rivaled by only a few other scents. At the Fall 2009 Couture show Lagerfeld celebrated this famous scent by blowing up its iconic bottle. The crystal vial that mimics the shape of the Place Vendôme was recreated four times around the runway, towering over the models. As the show came to a close a bottle opened up revealing the last look, as if born from the scent itself. Heavy handed metaphors are never too much for Couture, really.
8. A Few Sizes Too Big
Go big or go home was the motto at Chanel in 2008 (and subsequently in 2009), not to be outdone by the ready-to-wear collection’s monstrous bows, the Spring Couture show featured an even larger Chanel tweed jacket. While models sauntered out from inside of the jacket as if they spawned from the lining, showgoers had the opportunity to admire the details of the jacket: the braided trim, perfect seams and buttons stamped with double C’s.
7. Into the Woods
Harkening back to Spring Couture 2013, where models emerged from the edge of a cleanly kept forest of real trees, Fall 2018’s ready to wear presentation took place in the center of a wild forest. The floor was littered with amber-colored leaves and bare-branched trees formed a line down the center of the space. As models trudged through the undergrowth, it was nearly impossible not to get gobbled up by the surreal scene.
6. Runway of the Dolls
Little girls (and boys) everywhere play with dolls, using their imaginations to think up their little lives in their little dresses and shoes and perfect little eye-liner. Chanel (yet again) brought our fantasies to life in a perpetually-blue-skied doll house scene complete with a perfectly manicured lawn for 2016 Spring Couture. The life-sized house in the middle of the Grand Palais was perfectly minimal, with Japanese style wood paneling. After all of the models disappeared, the façade opened to reveal all of our dolls in all of their perfect, lifesized glory.
5. Merry-Go-Karl (Otherwise known as a Karl-ousel)
Chanel took us to a carnival back in Fall of 2008. The larger than life, double tiered Chanel branded carousel replaced horses with classic symbols of the House. Giant Boy Bags, double C’d buttons, camellias, and tweed jackets were occupied by models after they circled the massive toy. True to Chanel’s utilitarianism, the entire thing came to life after the last two-toned tight clad model stepped on board. At one point I’m sure Chanel was quoted as saying “never a button without a button-hole, and never a carousel without a moving Boy Bag.” Or something like that…
4. Sky Rockets in Flight
To infinity and Chanel. Just when we thought that the shows couldn’t get any more outrageous, Lagerfeld literally took Chanel out of this world at the Fall 2017 read-to-wear presentation. A Chanel branded rocket stood proud at the center stage as models flitted around on platforms, obviously prepping for takeoff. As if it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, after everyone was in position, the rocket actually launched, sending smoke everywhere and shocking the audience. Houston, we have fashion.
3. Towering Overhead
A champion of France since moving there as a young adult, Karl Lagerfeld has spent most of his career fostering a relationship with the city at large. This all culminated at the Fall 2017 Couture show where he was presented with an award from the city in the shadow of a replica of the lower half of the Eiffel Tower. Is there is a better way to celebrate the birthplace of the eponymous brand than presenting a show beneath it’s most famous landmark?
2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Giant Globe
Gabrielle Chanel was born under the sign of the Leo, and lions represented a large part of her inspiration. In Chanel’s apartment in Paris (still maintained by the brand today) is a small statue of a lion with a single orb under its paw. Apparently inspired to be just as bold, Lagerfeld had the statue blown up to monumental proportions (giving new meaning to the word catwalk) for Fall 2010 Couture. The lion, appearing to be made of bronze, was so large that models comfortably emerged from the giant pearl under the its paw. The final look was escorted by a man in a lion’s head mask, overall the performance was not at all cowardly.
Imagine picking up your milk and eggs in your Chanel suit. Now imagine those milk and eggs are Chanel brand milk and eggs. Thanks to the Fall 2014 ready-to-wear collection, we no longer had to. As models walked down aisles in sneakers and tweed pants, Chanel canned goods, cereals, and produce flashed by. Music, punctuated by announcements to our well-dressed shoppers, entertained as the models perused the shelves and placed their selections into leather wrapped shopping baskets. After the show, audience members posed with bottles of Chanel fruit juice and packages of Chanel nuts. It is a testament to Karl’s genius to take something so not Chanel and make it….Chanel.