c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

PARIS — Fashion designers including Miuccia Prada and Marc Jacobs have collaborated with artists, and artists frequently sit in the front row. The other day Jeff Koons attended Stella McCartney’s show. And sometimes the commercial trade-offs are as blunt as a handbag: In 2008, Louis Vuitton installed a shop at the Murakami retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.

One designer who has never taken a particular interest in art is Karl Lagerfeld. He’s not a collector; of furniture, jewelry and books, yes, but not art. And when he hears of a designer pretentiously comparing his own work to art, he’s apt to snigger.

“Ahhrrtt,” he says.

On Tuesday, Lagerfeld extended the comment to a large visual joke. He created a Chanel art museum inside the Grand Palais with roughly 75 commissioned works of “art,” many using the brand’s motifs, like the double C’s, pearls and Coco herself. Quite a few guests paused to have their picture snapped in front of a giant quilted purse mounted on the wall, just as tourists love to pose in front of the company’s headquarter on the Rue Cambon. (I was especially taken with a new-model Chanel tire supported on the back of a naked man — alas, a resin one.)

Everything was fake (or, maybe to someone, real) and very funny. Even the juices and Champagne-laced drinks offered by waiters came in arty colors.

And that’s as far as Lagerfeld went with the joke. A new book from Thames & Hudson, “The World According to Karl,” features KL quotations gathered from various publications (he was not involved), and here’s one that seems pertinent:

“With me there’s nothing below the surface. It’s quite a surface.” (I also came across this line: “Jogging pants are a sign of defeat.” Something to remember when sizing up next spring’s sports looks.)

Well, all of Lagerfeld’s designs for Chanel are informed by a view of fashion’s relative shallowness. He is not known for a distinctive silhouette, as Yves Saint Laurent was, or innovative cutting. Yet, more than his peers, he knows how to get the most out of techniques without belaboring them. He did things in this superb Chanel collection, most of them fairly simple, that other designers should have considered, and which women would appreciate.

Not only did he offer many sleeveless dresses, and lighten up Chanel’s bouclé, but he also designed an open-front jacket that is incorporated into a matching shift. The outfit appears to be one piece, with the banding of the jacket repeated in the hem or pocket trim of the dress. The jacket is cut high in front and closed at the collarbone with three buttons. Removed and tossed over the shoulders, it seems as light as a cardigan.

Amplified by accessories like pearl-tipped metal collars that mimic headphones, these practical gestures are hard to see. Yet they run through the collection. If you look closely, several multicolor print dresses are composed of pleated strips woven together. Lagerfeld deals with two big trends, color and pleating, but you are only aware of the original result.

At Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli found inspiration in the Rome Opera. Whether embroidered in saturated colors or in white lace, their favorite dress was long-sleeved, smooth to the waist and bell-shaped, and worn with sandals. The models had center-parted hair, with gold-ornamented headbands.

Despite the sense of theater in the embellishment, and stiff modesty of the shapes, their clothes felt youthful, maybe because of the equal number of pleated minidresses and the welcomed addition of sportswear items, like belled jeans and medallion-printed pants with crisp powder-blue shirts.

In the late ’90s, the Belgian designer Veronique Branquinho was incredibly attractive, both in her appearance and the kinds of clothes she designed. You couldn’t put your finger on it. At the height of her popularity (Lagerfeld was an admirer), she had a shop in Antwerp, a masculine space, cool, with none of the brand inducements of most stores. Though, whenever I walk into Marc Jacobs’ shop in Paris, I think a little of her store.

Times change, and Branquinho’s career didn’t work out the way maybe it should have. But now that I am thinking about it, her silhouette, and the sexual energy her clothes imparted, was post-Saint Laurent: the needle-thin pantsuits, the liberated but now distracted attitude. Her slim satin shorts and matching blazers and blouses with sexy heels, or a mint-green bodysuit just visible behind a frosty white, ruffed-neck minidress, confounded some reviewers. The ’60s? Hardly. They are today, and seductively real. Branquinho has not lost her mysterious ability to get under the skin.