PARIS • Chanel pulled the curtain back on its Paris haute couture show on Tuesday to reveal the secret life of its studios, where a small army of tailors, embroiderers and plumers turn out some of the world's most expensive clothes.
Veteran designer Karl Lagerfeld transported 80 of his so-called "petites mains" (little hands), who can spend hundreds of hours on a single dress, onto the set of his catwalk show.
With American actors Jessica Chastain, Will Smith and his daughter Willow looking on, seamstresses laboured over impossibly detailed creations while models walked between tailors' dummies and bolts of silk and taffeta.
The message of this minutious recreation of Chanel's famous rue Cambon ateliers was clear - haute couture is timeless.
After the knowing rebels at hip brand Vetements had attempted to steal the traditional houses' thunder with their cheeky commercial show on Sunday in which they recut existing designer and streetwear clothes, the "Kaiser" was reasserting that real couture was painstakingly handmade.
Like Dior and Schiaparelli, who also grandstanded the "inimitable savoir faire" of their historic studios the day before, Lagerfeld insisted that couture was unique, mounting a spirited defence of its values.
"If there wasn't these women," he said, pointing to his staff bent over their Singer sewing machines, "haute couture would not exist".
"It's all about know-how, without that it's a bit risky. Why is it (haute couture) so expensive? You have to really see how it is done. It is truly artisanal, nothing is mass produced. I have nothing against fast fashion, but this is something else entirely.
"We are dealing with great luxury and this is how it is done, just as it was 100 years ago."
There was more than a whiff of Victoriana, too, about the plumed peacock dresses Lagerfeld sent down the runway, many in black and white, another echo of the Dior show. There were also lots of riffs on the classic Chanel box jacket and bolero - often in the palest of pearl pinks - before the showstopping finale of English model Edie Campbell as a bride who can both wear the trousers and have a frou-frou train of pink plumes.
"Next time I will have a bride who is over 40, and I will put her in navy," said the designer who, at 82, shows no signs of hanging up his starched collar.