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Planet Chanel

Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld recast Chanel's iconographic jacket
A Chanel jacket is the style and fashion world's silver bullet. As much uniform as symbol, it's iconic value is on a par with the Eiffel Tower. If ever a poll were conducted amongst global fashionistas for the must-have item that heads their every wish list, then Chanel's jacket would surely top it. As if in deference to its star equilibrium, yet with no small degree of customary tongue-in-cheek, Lagerfeld even had his models parading in and out of a 75-foot model of the Chanel jacket at the Grand Palais for the brand's spring couture show in 2008. The implication was clear: the Chanel jacket was so much larger than life it could one day propel us into space; it's influence greater than China's Mao jacket, and its provenance as assured as the heads on the rocks of Mount Rushmore. The Chanel jacket is heraldic haute, blazoned and emboldened, the shorthand of 20th-century fashion history, a coat of arms whose code and rank and aesthetic marshaling herald its wearer's She-raldic style syntax. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Lagerfeld's reinventions since taking the helm of Chanel in 1983, bespeak a love profound for Coco, or at least, for the symbolism her jacket embodies and inspires. Her armour, his amour. Her style, his spin. Short or stretched, tight or loose, Lagerfeld still manages to enhance and refine its pedigree.

And now, in another outsize demonstration of the jacket's timeless couture-y clout, Chanel descends on the two floors of the G-building in Tokyo's progressive Aoyama district, to launch The Little Black Jacket: CHANEL's classic revisited by Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld. The exhibition - which travels to Taiwan, Australia, Hong Kong, London and other countries thereafter - comprises 113 photographs of contemporary culture's notables - models such as Japan's Kiko Mizuhara and Holland's Saskia de Brauw, Chinese artist Zhou Yi and jewellery designer Harumi De Rola, along with the likes of Yoko Ono, Sarah Jessica Parker - who transforms the jacket into a headdress - and Charlotte Gainsbourg - all styled by Roitfeld and shot by Lagerfeld, whose designs the subjects wear. The images are selected from a forthcoming book by German publisher Steidl, from which the exhibition's title also derives.

Like Model T Ford's, Lagerfeld's iterations in this collection are all black, and despite transforming the jacket into a modern, adaptable garment to be worn by both sexes of all ages, still bear the signature details of Coco's creations from the 1950's: collarless, the woven tweed with overstitched trimmings outlining the jacket, cuffs and patch pockets and gilt buttons. Chanel cast jackets with gold chain sewn into the hem, to allow the fabric to hang perfectly and properly from the shoulders. The chain is a Chanel trademark, it being the only couture house to 'weight' its jackets in such a way. Buttons matter too. Chanel was fond of gilt buttons embossed with a lion's head [her star sign], chains, stars, the sun, the double C or pearls. Lagerfeld has continued the tradition, using clover leaves, ears of wheat, bottles of Chanel No. 5, or even Mademoiselle's own profile.

Little Black Jacket feels like a shrine to a glamorous past, a stock take of an indulgent now, with a sass load of spin into some glorious but as yet undetermined future. If designer Haider Ackermann is set to assume the fashion world's most coveted role in its most celebrated house, as Lagerfeld himself recently suggested, then Lagerfeld's exhibition feels like a moment: the distillation of Coco's talent codes, sprinkled with his own spun-meisterly supremacy, a transporting attempt to cast their collaborative influence, iconography and relevance, like a blazing comet, across the future of this century's precarious couture scape. Jackets please.

Stephen Short
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From March 24 to April 15, 2012, G-Bldg, Minami Aoyama, Minami Aoyama 5-4-48, Minato Ku, Tokyo
The Little Black Jacket: CHANEL's classic revisited by Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld,
Steidl, Göttingen, 2012. Available in bookstores from Autumn 2012.