A chic international crowd walks along a dark cobblestone street that opens onto an ancient Roman temple front. White columns gleam, huge statues and swathes of Chanel tweed flicker in the torch light.
We are in the Italian capital, but these are not Roman ruins. Instead, we’re on the set of the TV series Rome, at the famed Cinecitta studios on the outskirts of the Eternal City.
This is where revered Italian director Federico Fellini crafted many of his greatest films, including his 1963 masterpiece 8½. It is a certified icon of Italian cinema. Chanel has taken over the space for one night to stage its annual Métiers d’Art show (this time called “Paris in Rome”) and to debut a new tongue-in-cheek film by Karl Lagerfeld, titled Once and Forever, starring Kristen Stewart and Geraldine Chaplin.
“I don’t analyse my way of thinking,” Lagerfeld tells a phalanx of journalists after the show in response to a question about whether he’s taking a more cinematic approach to his work. “But it’s a good motivation.”
This time, Chanel brought Paris to Rome. The facsimile of a dark Parisian street that Chanel constructed on the sound-set of Teatro 5 took six weeks to complete.
Stewart, who stars as a grumpy starlet (perhaps a cheeky reference to her real-life persona), says she feels “blessed to be part of something that isn’t just contrived and money-driven”.
It’s been said by more than a few fashion insiders that the industry should be more cinematic, and Once and Forever, a fictional behind-the-scenes look at the making of a Coco Chanel biopic, is as much about cinema as fashion gets.
The dreamworld of fiction is a powerful evocation of style, and much more potent than standard runway shows, which have become heavily merchandised.
Held at Rome’s Cinecittà, a film studio built by Benito Mussolini and where Cleopatra, La Dolce Vita and Ben-Hur were filmed, keywords included 60s Italian cinema and its French actresses Romy Schneider and Anouk Aimee who, of course, would wear Chanel. The city of Rome played its part as well; guests travelled through various incarnations of Rome and Paris-in-Rome – the location of the pre-show cocktails were mocked up with a faux Pantheon and Arch of Titus, and the set of the show looked like a black-and-white film set which gave attendees Pleasantville-vibes. Eerie and chilling, that same feeling of unnerving and transience that emerged after spring/summer ’16 started seeping in. Misgivings were cast aside once the show started with one of Chanel’s strongest collections in recent times.