Lagerfeld & Chanel bring fantasy Paris to life at fashion week

Paris, according to lore and legend, is a city predominantly inhabited by elegant women, chic cafes and famous faces.

Visitors, of course, find the reality more down-to-earth. The French capital can sometimes seem more heavily touristed, surly and less sartorially obsessed than they might have anticipated.

But Chanel, the fashion house that is perhaps the most synonymous with Paris's reputation for glamour, is determined to keep the Paris dream alive.

On Tuesday, it pulled out all the stops as it showed off its autumn-winter women's collection in a pop-up but fully functioning, specially-built Paris cafe that served both as catwalk and as guest refreshment.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld created the cinema-grade set from scratch in the middle of a neoclassical, glass-roofed exhibition hall in the middle of the city.

Waiters in crisp white shirts and black vests carried silver trays with steaming coffee and croissants to models as they slid in to sit in one of the glass-and-brass trimmed booths or to stand nonchalantly at the wooden bar after their turn down the runway.

The vast illusory cafe was dubbed "Brasserie Gabrielle" in a nod to the famous founder Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, nicknamed "Coco".

The resulting cafe scene was so utterly, archetypically Parisian that fans of the movies Amelie or Midnight in Paris might recognise an imagined ideal once again stage-managed into fleeting reality.

"It's the biggest French brasserie ever," Lagerfeld boasted after the show, as he proudly stood behind the mock/real bar to speak to journalists.

"It's an idealised vision of a Paris of today that I wanted to amplify, to pour water on 'French bashing'.

"Even if the French say that France is ugly, it's not so ugly - no need to exaggerate. It's not as bad as all that."

The German designer, who lives in Paris - "I'm international, global!" he exclaimed - said he could get away with pumping up the Paris illusion because he's not French. "If a French person had done it, it would been patriotic."

Kris Jenner - an avid Chanel client and the mother of Kim Kardashian, who was attending other Paris fashion shows with husband Kanye West - said she found the cafe setting "absolutely wonderful, magnificent".

"I can't believe he (Lagerfeld) put all this together in such little time," she told AFP.

The collection models displayed in Chanel's ersatz cafe featured knee-length skirts and dress ensembles in the house's signature checkered black-and-white.

There were also two-tone numbers that showcased Chanel's take on the ubiquitous winter parka: a fashion-statement pillowed jacket complete with hood.

Other looks boasted autumn colours including bronze and dark blues, and many were accessorised with Chanel's range of instantly recognisable handbags.

All the models had their feet encased in the same shoes: cream-beige with black-toes and practical square heels.

The clothes appeared to glide in and out of a range of retro periods from the last century, their timelessness emphasised by the brasserie in the background.

Lagerfeld, who seems indefatigable at age 81, said he took great pleasure in unveiling eight collections a year, instead of the four ready-to- wear and haute couture ranges brought out by most other top-end houses, or even just the haute couture series some designer rivals like Jean Paul Gaultier have fallen back on exclusively.

Other designers "may be a little lazy", Lagerfeld said mischievously.

"You have to know in what kind of world you live. If the pace of the world is too big for you, there are other jobs. Or do half-time jobs. That's not my problem."