Essence of an Icon
Coming to Hong Kong in 2016, a hot new Chanel exhibition explores the enigmatic spirit of the house’s founder, Coco. We chronicle the London launch
Karl Lagerfeld, arguably one of the best storytellers in the fashion industry, never met Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. However, he has managed to bring her spirit to life in Mademoiselle Privé, a multisensory exhibition he recently curated at London’s Saatchi Gallery. The name of the show, which pays homage to all things Chanel, is taken from the sign Coco installed at the door of her private sanctuary on the third floor of her Paris atelier— the same space in which Lagerfeld now develops his collections for the Parisian brand as its head designer and creative director.
Celebrating the irreverent spirit and innovation of both Coco and Karl, the show begins with a stroll through a modern English garden by landscape artists Harry and David Rich. Then visitors wander into the gallery space and are
surrounded by Chinese coromandel screens— beautiful objets décoratif that featured prominently in Coco’s apartment, located at 31 Rue Cambon.
Several rooms on the ground floor have been fitted out to recreate locations highly significant to Coco, such as the mirrored staircase of her apartment and her first boutique in the seaside town of Deauville, as well as elements that hark back to trips to Scotland, England and Italy, places that influenced her creations.
Another room provides a sensory experience in a minimalist laboratory that dissects the components of the house’s iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume. Large containers of the fragrance’s individual elements, including neroli, jasmine and lily of the valley, open in succession to fill the gallery with ever-evolving scents.
One floor up, Chanel’s most exquisite collections glow in a room with jet-black interiors—a luxe redux of sorts. Lagerfeld paired 16 specially created haute couture outfits with re-editions of Bijoux de Diamants, a high jewellery collection designed by Coco in 1932. On the walls hang Lagerfeld-shot portraits of ambassadors, celebrities and friends of the brand—including Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart and Vanessa Paradis—dressed in the same pieces shot at Coco’s apartment.
The second floor of the gallery hosts a series of interactive workshops that celebrate the craftsmanship and savoir faire of the houses of Lesage and Lemarié, allowing guests to create and assemble their own designs with embroidery, feather and flower work. The exhibition finishes with Jardin à la Française, an 18th-century garden inspired by the interlocking Cs that have become one of the world’s most recognisable fashion logos.
While Mademoiselle Privé touches on Chanel’s rich history and heritage, its main focus is on the brand experience. “We felt we wanted, and needed, to say something about what goes on behind the scenes [at Chanel],” says Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president. “We felt it was a good time for the brand to give away some secrets.”
The exhibition has just closed in London, but it will be travelling to Hong Kong in the first half of 2016.
FOLLOW SUIT From top: Chanel No. 5 perfume comes to life in a conceptual, aromatic experience; Karl Lagerfeld at the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition in October
perfectly poised From top: Lily-rose Depp poses for Karl Lagerfeld in Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment; Alice Dellal and Julianne Moore at the opening night of the exhibition; haute couture outfits and portraits on display