Economy class couture

For the Spring/Summer 2012 couture Show, Lagerfeld commissioned the construction of the “Chanel plane,” a stage setting whose seats, aisles and walls rendered it a perfect imitation of your last Delta economy flight.

Only Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel, knows how to turn boarding an airplane into a feat that is glamorous, innovative and chic.

Normally, upon boarding a flight, you are barraged with gray sweats, flannel pajamas, ragged hoodies and unkempt hair. Passengers are annoyed, frazzled — wishing to be anywhere but squeezed between two strangers in a seat the size of a pincushion.

But Lagerfeld turned all these stereotypes on their head with the fashion house’s Spring/Summer 2012 couture show.

For the show, which debuted the last week of January, Lagerfeld commissioned the construction of the “Chanel plane,” a stage setting whose seats, aisles and walls rendered it a perfect imitation of your last Delta economy flight. It was built in 5 days within the Grand Palais in Paris.

Like other airplanes, the Chanel plane had limited seating — but unlike other airplanes, many important figures of fashion, accustomed to private jets, were clamoring for a ticket on this ride.

The theme of air transit pervaded the show. The neat clothes on the runway vaguely resembled vintage stewardess outfits, and models sported hair that seemed to defy gravity. In an economic temperature that has caused many fashion designers to cut back on extravagance in their shows, Lagerfeld’s was certainly a bold move. For one of the most sought-after fashion houses to house its show inside of a “plane” could just be another mark of Lagerfeld’s historic eccentricity, but I think he had a greater point to make.

A quick glance at history is enough to convince us that fashion explains the zeitgeist of its times. During the economic boom of the 1920s, skirt hemlines went up. During the recent recession and housing crisis, a 2008 Time magazine article noted the connection between the popularity of the color black and the mood of the general public. Researchers at IBM in 2011 found that heel heights increased in economic downturns.

Within today’s economy, the task of riding an airplane has perhaps become even more mundane — a hassle of security, lines, baggage-check and general inconvenience. With international conversation revolving around the 99%, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lagerfeld himself were making a statement about the direction of fashion today. Certainly his beautiful garments are not accessible to all, but by displaying them in a setting as plebeian as an airplane’s economy class, he may be remarking that the distinct lines of America’s social classes are starting to blur.

Since Lagerfeld has always been a leader in the world of art and culture, I’m excited to see what’s next. It may be too much to hope that gourmet chefs will begin serving delicacies out of food trucks or that the Hilton line will launch a chain of cheap hostels, but Lagerfeld’s plane may be a bold first step to opening up the world of luxury to all.

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