Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Inspiration for Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Collection

Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Inspiration for Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017

Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Collection. Photo by Yannis Vlamos, 2017.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture 2017 collection, held in January 2017 at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, was a study in elegance, femininity, and sophistication.  The line visibly referenced Le Colin-Maillard (1754-1756), or Blind Man’s Bluff, an eighteenth-century chef-d’oeuvre by French painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Similar to Fragonard, who painted a variety of subjects including landscapes, genres, historical, grand interiors, portraits, mythological tales of Antiquity, Lagerfeld’s Haute Couture 2017 reflected the same level of diversity.  The Chanel collection combined luxurious materials such as silk, satin, and chiffon.  Long, lean silhouettes were created with cinched-in waists, high-waisted trousers, and gentle A-line skirts.   The subdued color palette of cream, shades of pale pink and yellow, and beige were gently anchored with silver and gold accessories or ostentatiously highlighted with a profusion ruffles, feathers, paillettes, and embroidery.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Collection.  Photo by Yannis Vlamos, 2017.

Lagerfeld masterfully utilizes classic Chanel iconography primarily consisting of wool and tweed while cleverly implementing the same libertinage themes as Fragonard.  The superfluous, licentious style was pervasive during the Enlightenment.  Although viewed as blatantly hedonistic, romance, sensuality, and utopian pastoral scenes were artificially disguised as gallantry within the context of a modernized society. This ultimately created a complete fragmentation and detachment from its supposed sentiment.  Le Colin-Maillard was Fragonard’s first foray into pastoral paintings.  He utilizes a soft color palette including pink, blue, white, green, and yellow to evoke an erotically-charged, pastoral environment popular amongst the aristocracy. The scene evokes a lush, flowering pastoral scene framed by a soft blue sky. It is a flirtatious, sensual setting in which a young shepherdess wearing fashionable, rustic attire playfully peeks through the bandage covering her eyes, presumably placed there by her lover.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Collection.  Photo by Yannis Vlamos, 2017.

Lagerfeld borrows the elegant shepherdess of Fragonard’s Le Colin-Maillard and recontextualizes the figure as an haute-couture model.  In both genres, she is the dominant, central figure.  Positioned in a gentle contrapposto, the twenty-first century model and eighteenth-century shepherdess animate the scene/defilé with graceful, elegant movements. The voluminous fabric of Lily-Rose Depp’s pink, chiffon dress is illuminated by a soft, gentle light originating from above. Fragonard’s blond-haired heroine with undulating curls dons an unassuming straw hat tipped in pink, while those of Lagerfeld’s models sit atop sleek chignons.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Collection.  Photo by Yannis Vlamos, 2017.

Throughout the defilé, it is evident that Lagerfeld’s Chanel haute couture line is inspired by Le Colin-Maillard’s shepherdess juxtaposed with contemporary society.  Her white, billowing, cotton sleeves mirror the whiteness of the eye bandage, as well as the undergarments covering her bosom. Delicate pink chiffon contrasts the grayish-blue silk undergarment extending to her ankles. This blue is mirrored in the shepherdess’s satin ribbon shoelaces.  The delicate bunch of wildflowers tucked into her bosom, and the wispy ribbon which adorns her neck, encapsulate the romantic essence of Lagerfeld’s haute couture défilé.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Collection.  Photo by Yannis Vlamos, 2017.

The implementation of the chiaroscuro technique, strategically executed with mirrors and lights, provides strong visible juxtapositions between two distinct realms.  A contrived, neoclassical/Art Déco sphere with glass pedestals and mirrored floors contrasts with romantic, luxurious colors, fabrics, and textures. The former being solid, weighted, and rigid; the latter being light, voluminous, and lush. This concept is evident with both Lagerfeld’s and Fragonard’s selection of materials, soft color palette, and positioning of architectural objects.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Collection.  Photo by Yannis Vlamos, 2017.

Similar to the painting, strong diagonals are formed during the défilé – created by light sources emanating from above. Vertical and horizontal divisions are distinct throughout Lagerfeld’s clever mise-en-scène which utilizes mirror refraction. Strong, architectural lines and obliques created by the glass pedestals and mirrored floors contrast the lushness created by the profusion ruffles, feathers, paillettes, and embroidery.  Wildflowers, trees, ivy, and billowing fabric adorning Fragonard’s shepherdess create a utopian arrière-plan.

About Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Born in Grasse, Fragonard (1732-1806), or “Frago”, is one of the most influential painters of the eighteenth century, especially during the years preceding the French Revolution.  Fragonard began his training as a painter with Jean-Baptiste Chardin and later with François Boucher.  Soon thereafter, he was recipient of the Grand Prix award in 1752 which subsequently led to his acceptance into the Royal Academy of Painting in 1765.  A series of important paintings were commissioned over the course of his lifetime including L’Aurore triumphant de la Nuit (1755), Le Verrou (1775), Le Jeu de la main chaude (1775), and Renaud entre dans la forêt (1761).

Jewel K. Goode
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Le Colin-Maillard. Photo Jewel K. Goode, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Author: Jewel K. Goode


Faroult, Guillaume. Album de l’exposition du Musée du Luxembourg. Fragonard amoureux: Galant et libertin. Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, 2015.

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