Mosaic-embellished tables, palatial pillows and sequin-covered walls: only Karl Lagerfeld possesses the kind of can-do attitude to decorating that ensures such spectacular scenes as this at every Chanel runway. This time the stage was set for the Pre-Fall 2011 Métier d'Arts show, which celebrated the opening of a second Chanel boutique in Istanbul with a ‘Paris Byzance’ collection that more than mirrored the splendour of its shimmering surroundings.
Being Chanel, of course the whole collection was brilliant. But my, oh my, the jewellery. The clothes were dripping with beautiful, sultan-worthy bling - gem-encrusted headbands, sprawling filigree necklaces and starburst brooches, gloriously offset against a palette of deep, dark black. In a word, stunning.
The OTT grandeur of these accessories strikes right at the heart of historical Istanbul. The city is steeped in an old-world opulence where in some areas it’s hard to avoid bumping into Ottoman landmarks like the mosaic-strewn Hagia Sophia or the glittering treasury of the Topkapi Palace. It's there in the food too - in particular, Turkey's long-held love affair with sugar. Putting aside commercialised sugar-fixes like Cadbury's chocolate or Chupa Chups, there’s something entirely exotic about the East's irrepressible sweet tooth. Sugar was once prized by the Ottomans as a luxury product and valuable trading tool, and that reverence can still be tasted in Istanbul's signature dishes - so much so that I felt on the verge of self-induced hyperglycaemia during a trip there last week.
Try baklava for example, those crisp little bites of layered pastry soaked with honey into a soft and syrupy chewiness, washed down with a cup of sweet, short and dark Turkish coffee. Or step into the Spice Bazaar, an Aladdin’s cave of confectionary where shopkeepers sell with sugar as well as words, proffering free glasses of nectarous apple tea whilst prices are haggled over frosted piles of Turkish Delight and jewel-bright dried apricots. Even the smoke-filled shisha cafés come scented with the heady sweetness of cherry and apple tobacco. It's a deliciously cloying and utterly indulgent way of eating, and feels a whole lot chicer than chomping on a Curly Wurly. Sugar anoints every corner of Istanbul, an ancient flavour fixed within the city’s increasingly modern surroundings, and seeing Chanel's East meets West, gold against black collection, I feel like I've been taken right back there.