THE YOUNG GABRIELLE CHANEL BRUSHED OFF INAUSPICIOUS BEGINNINGS TO BUILD AN EMPIRE. THE HOUSE’S LATEST OFFERINGS CHANNEL HER INSPIRATIONAL SPIRIT OF INDEPENDENCE.
Before there was Coco Chanel, there was Gabrielle: a spirited young woman who spent her childhood years in abject poverty and her teens orphaned in a convent where she learned sewing and embroidery. Despite these disadvantaged beginnings, Gabrielle went on to become one of the 20th century’s great couturiers and icons: a self-made woman in a world where women were so rarely at the helm. Her legacy provides much inspirational fodder, even today, and feels especially ripe in a time when third-wave feminism is being embraced by many.
Chanel has answered the call, declaring 2017 to be the year of “Gabrielle”, offering up a slate of new releases, including the hip new Gabrielle bag, a new fragrance Gabrielle Chanel — the maison’s first major fragrance launch in 15 years — and an elegant line of timepieces. It’s a pertinent moment to return to both the roots and the driving spirit of the brand and, as far as female role models in the fashion business go, there was perhaps no one as unique as Chanel. For one, her design legacy is hinged on the very idea of modernity: she created a revolutionary wardrobe that recognised a woman’s need for fluidity, comfort and style, unfettering them from the constraints of overly structured or impractical fashions. On a personal note, she also eschewed the traditional path of marriage and children, and worked tirelessly on her empire up until the day she died, peacefully at the age of 87. (She was also tenaciously independent, and while her suitors funded her in the early years, she always paid back her loans.)
This brand of “do it my way” – or in Chanel’s words, “I decided who I wanted to be, and that is who I am” — has particular cachet and appeal to my generation of millennials. We are in the throes of the age of individualism: political, social and sexual, and the fashion world is not immune. The launch of Chanel’s Gabrielle bag, a flat-bottomed hobo that is both slouchy and versatile, heralded a strong departure from the brand’s iconic ladylike styles. More importantly (and here’s the hook), the lengthy, double-handle chain allows it to be worn in all manner of ways according to your personality, as modelled by the modern-day muses in the campaign: Kristen Stewart, Cara Delevingne, Caroline de Maigret and Pharrell Williams.
Out this September, the new fragrance Gabrielle Chanel also offers up a reflection of our times. An update of a traditional floral scent (flowers were totemic for Chanel) the glass flacon is a sleeker and squarer model of the iconic No. 5, which was released 97 years ago. Modern-day rule-breaker Stewart appears again in the campaign and the accompanying film, by the awardwinning British director Ringan Ledwidge, offers a clear departure from the tropes of fragrance narratives. Unveiled in late August, the short sees Stewart struggling free from a cocoon, breaking into a run and crashing through a wall of glass to arrive in a new dawn, bathed in light. Beyonce’s powerful ballad Running is the soundtrack. There are no saccharine allegories, no love interests and, perhaps most surprising of all, no fashion.
With this film, “we want to touch all women, but also each individual woman, simultaneously,” says Thomas du Pré de Saint-Maur, head of global creative resources for Chanel’s fragrance & beauty and fine watches & jewellery divisions. “No one will experience it in the same way; it depends on one’s perceptions, lived experiences, personality and emotions.”
To create the fragrance, Chanel nose Olivier Polge had carte blanche, and though Gabrielle wasn’t part of any brief, the name came to him during the process. While composing a simulation of a “bouquet of white flowers”, including orange blossom from Tunisia, ylangylang from Comoros in East Africa, jasmine from Egypt and tuberose from Grasse, he arrived at his muse. “It seems to me a rebel at heart would have a strong and determined personality, something I’ve always associated with white flowers.” For the house of Chanel, that rebel will always be Gabrielle Chanel.