“Once upon a time Chanel was old hat. It was only Parisian doctors’ wives who still wore it. Nobody wanted it, it was hopeless,” current Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld said soon after he showed his first collection for the fashion house in January 1983.


The catwalk show took place in the legendary Rue Cambon with models wearing sleek column gowns, chic tea dresses and elegant LBDs inspired by Coco's 1920s and 30s designs - it was, according to a new biblical tome which illustrates in minute detail every Chanel collection created during the reign of King Karl, the beginning of a monumental revival making Chanel the most famous designer brand in the world.


“We’re calling it a category killer,” confirms the editor of Chanel Catwalk: The complete Karl Lagerfeld collections, Adelia Sabatini, who believes that this is the ultimate, everything-you-ever-needed-to-know-about Chanel publication. "We’ve made it a real ultimate reference, down to every last pearl necklace.”


Karl Lagerfeld: the man who knows how to make a catwalk moment


Chanel: Catwalk charts how Lagerfeld adopted the strategy of “my life and my job is to forget myself” telling Suzy Menkes that he was “like a computer plugged into the Chanel mode.”


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Image: chiffon bridesmaid dresses


From his first couture collection for Chanel - which he said was “like doing a revival of an old play”- to the decadent Chanel Casino couture show for Autumn 2015, the book’s 614 pages show that Lagerfeld was creating novelty social-media friendly moments before smartphones even existed.


“I was really surprised to find that there is always this humour,” says Sabatini. “Like the Chanel hockey sticks and boxing gloves in 1984, a surfboard for Summer 1991 made for a ‘city surfer because it’s perfect for diving into the nightlife from Paris to Rome and New York’, models carrying video cameras when they were a new thing and Chanel underwear sported by Kate Moss for 1998.”


“We thought it was a shame that so much work goes in to these clothes, then they flash up on the catwalk for three seconds and unless you can buy them, they’re gone” says Sabatini who worked for over a year with Chanel to comb through old press releases and archive materials to bring together every collection.


Why Karl's never been afraid of making a political statement


Lagerfeld has also never been afraid to delve into whatever’s happening in culture at the time. Most recently, you might think of the SS15 show in which an army of models protested down the runway yielding feminist slogans like ‘History is Her Story’ alongside more pithy signs like ‘Make fashion not war.’


There was an equally provocative moment in 1991. “That was the rap and hip hop show," says Sabatini. "Even though that was a big theme in the world at the time, it was considered quite extreme for this hallowed French house to be pushing it as a theme and creating a logo trend from it.” But it’s these experiments which make Chanel stand the test of time. “Rihanna loves vintage 90's Chanel accessories and researching the book really made me understand why.”


How Karl turned it around at Chanel


So how has Karl done it? In his own words. “If you look at the 1950s collections, the end of the 1950s there are very few chains, there is no CC, and there no camellias, but in the 1980s we had to pull out all the stops because otherwise it would just have been a posh unassuming tweed suit with a little bow.”


There are constant rumours about whether Karl may one day retire from Chanel. Sabatini thinks it’s unlikely. “Since 1983 there’s been this uninterrupted magic of Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in that position. There’s still so much invention to be done."


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