Haute couture is undoubtedly the high point of the fashion season, and the pinnacle of excellence, creativity and skill. Of the few select houses with the ability to produce couture, Chanel is the oldest still in existence, and the de facto focal point of the twice yearly, three-day couture event in Paris.
With its elaborate stages and sublime collections, Chanel is famous for its runway shows, and the audience eagerly awaits the customary bow from Karl Lagerfeld at the end of each.
But at the spring/summer 2019 haute couture collection that showed yesterday in the Grand Palais in Paris, the octogenarian designer was absent, triggering speculation on the state of his health.
With Chanel's scheduled two shows in one day, an announcement was made after the first show reassuring the audience that Lagerfeld would attend the second later that day.
Yet it was not Lagerfeld who took the bow with the "bride" (the look that traditionally closes every couture show), but his second in command, Virginie Viard.
"Mr Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, who was feeling tired, asked Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house of Chanel, to represent him," an official announcement explained.
As Lagerfeld's second in command, Viard is increasingly stepping into the spotlight, recently taking the bow alongside Lagerfeld at shows, fuelling talk she will take over as and when Lagerfeld steps down.
Aged 87 (or 84 depending on who you talk to), Lagerfeld still follows a punishing schedule, putting out Chanel collections for cruise, pre-fall, ready to wear (twice) plus autumn/winter and spring/summer for couture.
In addition, Lagerfeld also designs for Fendi (where he has been for over 50 years) and his eponymous label. He also photographs much of Chanel's imagery himself and travels extensively. A notorious workaholic, Lagerfeld juggles a work schedule that would floor someone half his age.
Case in point – the day before the couture show, Lagerfeld and his team were all at the Chanel studio on the fabled 31 Rue Cambon, finalising looks and the running order of the show. Once each look had been given Lagerfeld's final approval, it was then photographed.
With only six weeks to transform Lagerfeld's couture sketches into reality, the pressure is certainly on for everyone involved. That the weight seems to at last be taking a toll on the man on whose shoulders everything rests can be of little surprise.
While the audience was dismayed to learn that Lagerfeld was feeling exhausted, the real surprise remains that the ethereal pieces – all entirely handmade – which floated down the runway to such stunning effect were conjured into existence in so little time.