April 24th, 2015
“Prodigiously intelligent” is how Francis Poulenc describes Coco Chanel to Marie-Laure de Noailles in the early 1930s, before the two women meet at last, an attribute that also sums up the spirited Marie-Laure, though the traits they had in common did not end there.
Fact and fiction shaped both of their childhoods. Gabrielle, for her part, masked the unhappiness of her early years and went on to invent a legend. Marie-Laure, who was raised in a highly cultivated, privileged environment that was lacking in affection, had a solitary childhood, as the descendant of a wealthy German banking family and a French aristocratic clan whose ancestry can be traced back to the notorious Marquis de Sade. Her eccentric grandmother, the Comtesse de Chevigné, who partly inspired Marcel Proust’s Madame de Guermantes, was to prove a major influence.
Just like Gabrielle, Marie-Laure follows her artistic instincts. The Parisian hôtel particulier that she moves into following her marriage to Charles de Noailles already houses a major collection of Old Masters, from Delacroix to Rembrandt, Goya to Rubens. The couple commission decorator Jean-Michel Frank to redesign the site’s interiors — think stripped back spaces with monastic volumes, marrying rare pieces of furniture and unique materials like straw and panels of parchment with pure forms. This stark aesthetic echoes Marie-Laure’s own look, with her wardrobe of Chanel suits (she owned 40 different styles, most of them black, according to Abbé Mugnier).
In constant pursuit of refinement, Chanel the designer favors the harmony of lines and the simplification of the garment, freeing up movement. Marrying beauty and function, she defines a new modernity.
A rebel and nonconformist like Coco, Marie-Laure gets a kick out of provocation. In 1932, as one of the first to adopt the diamond jewelry designs audaciously presented by Gabrielle to help “combat the economic crisis”, she appears in Vogue sporting a sparkling feather brooch.
Chanel revolutionizes fashion; Marie-Laure as muse and patron, and later painter and writer, contributes to the history of art, amassing, together with her husband, a collection of works spanning Braque, Picasso, Balthus, Mondrian, Giacometti and Man Ray. The couple play host to le tout-Paris and cultivate their knack for scouting new talent, notably the Surrealists. They finance cinematic projects, and lend support to composers like Markevitch, Poulenc and Stravinsky …
More discreet in her support of the arts, it is Gabrielle Chanel who offers shelter to the Russian composer and his family in her villa in Garches. As early as 1924 she designs the costumes for Le Train Bleu, a ballet by Diaghilev featuring a decor painted by Picasso, along with other productions and a film by Renoir. She shares close relationships with the poets of the day and avant-garde artists including Dali, Nijinski and Visconti. Coco also shares a close friendship with Cocteau, for whom Marie-Laure has had an infatuation all her life … Marie-Laure is a hopeless romantic; Coco, who is destined to remain alone, despite her epic love affairs, confesses that, without love, a woman is nothing.
Marie-Laure de Noailles © Henri Martinie / Roger-Viollet
March 11th, 2015
For this Fall-Winter 2015/16 Ready-to-Wear show, every model wore a beige shoe with a black toe, squared heel and revisited proportions: “It’s become the most modern of shoes and makes beautiful legs,” Karl Lagerfeld explained.
Mademoiselle called them pumps. "They are the final touch of elegance" she used to say. To perfect the silhouette that Gabrielle Chanel introduced to the world, it was necessary to create a shoe that went with any outfit, one that was elegant, could be worn morning to night, and was suited to the new lifestyle of women.
In 1957, Mademoiselle Chanel created the two-tone slingback shoe in beige and black. It created a highly graphic effect: the beige lengthened the leg while the black shortened the foot. Whereas shoes had previously been made in a single color that matched the color of one's clothing, Mademoiselle Chanel once again overturned the codes of fashion by pairing beige and black with all outfits. In her words, "You leave in the morning wearing beige and black, you have lunch in beige and black, and you attend a cocktail party wearing beige and black. You're dressed for the entire day!" Chanel's slingback shoe experienced instant success. It varied in style, offering versions with a straighter or thinner heel and a rounded, square or pointed toe. Mademoiselle Chanel improved its comfort with the help of Massaro (which has remained Chanel's custom shoe brand to this day) by adding an elastic strap. Located "just steps away from Rue Cambon," the Massaro workshop continues to create all of the footwear creations for Chanel's Haute Couture and Métiers d’Art collections. Starting with his very first collection, Karl Lagerfeld has channeled his talent to modernize this model. The two-tone shoe thus lends itself to a myriad of metamorphoses. In just one season, it may be transformed into a ballerina slipper, boot or sandal without losing any of its original spirit.
© Photo Philippe Garnier / Elle-Scoop
March 10th, 2015
Coco Chanel often attended the Parisian brasseries with her artist friends. Following theatrical performances, Gabrielle surrounded by Igor Stravinsky, dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar, or Salvador Dalí, would take her place in these enlightened restaurants where elegance, great minds and gastronomy created a harmonious blend. And, on nights when Boy Capel (her first love) did not accompany her to the Opera, she would spend the evening at Maxim's or at the Café de Paris.
With the "Brasserie Gabrielle" fashion show, Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, has provided a reinterpretation of this Parisian passion.
Gabrielle Chanel and Serge Lifar, photo © Société des Bains de Mer - Monte Carlo
February 25th, 2015
Initiator of a new, liberating and modern gesture, Gabrielle Chanel created a bag that she needed herself, an accessory which freed up the hands: the iconic bag of the House is born.
Even today, the classic design still follows the first partitions dictated by Gabrielle: a chain interwoven with leather ribbon that allows to carry it on the shoulder, quilting inspired by the equestrian universe that Gabrielle Chanel loved so much, garnet leather that reminds one of the color of the uniform which Gabrielle had to wear at the Aubazine orphanage, and the regular twist clasp called the "Mademoiselle".
Every season, Karl Lagerfeld metamorphoses the iconic bag: different materials, clasps transformed into jewels and chevron quilting enriches the legendary Chanel bag family. The iconic bag is part of an heritage that is transmitted from mother to daughter. As Chanel used to say: "Fashion becomes unfashionable, style never".
Mademoiselle Chanel by Mike de Dulmen © CHANEL All rights reserved
January 26th, 2015
Haute Couture was born during the Second Empire within the Rue de la Paix quarter in the heart of Paris. Englishman Charles-Frédéric Worth opened his house in 1858. He demonstrated his innovation by rejecting the statute of a fashion designer as a "supplier" and embracing that of the designer as a "creator," and by presenting veritable fashion collections worn by models to clients in his luxurious salons. At this time, Paris was filled with small trades devoted to embellishment (embroiderers, feather-workers, button-makers, shoemakers, glove makers, hatters, etc.) and enjoyed a reputation as the only world capital where elegance reigned.
In 1945, very specific rules defined the statutes of Haute Couture. Updated throughout the years, they have survived time, making Haute Couture the absolute reference for a subtle blend of tradition and innovation. The specifications require that original models be designed by the permanent designer of the house. They must be created in its own workshops, which should have a minimum of 20 employees. Each season, on the dates set by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the house must present a collection of at least 35 looks consisting of both day and evening styles.
As a bearer of unique expertise and maintenance of tradition, Haute Couture excels in the perfection of all the details that give it its singular, rare character. It is also a laboratory brimming with ideas and creativity, in which the quality and perfection of its cuts are crystallized in time.
Chanel is currently the oldest operating couture house.
© Photo All Rights Reserved, Chanel ateliers circa 1935
December 1st, 2014Par Françoise-Claire Prodhon
Austria captivated Gabrielle Chanel with its charm, atmosphere and mountainous landscape. She loved nature, sport and outdoor activities as much as cultural events and high society: Austria offered it all. In a letter to Jean Cocteau on July 16, 1922 she wrote: "Tzara is in Tirol - seems to be feeling better and happy - perhaps I will go there too". Like many artists at that time, Tristan Tzara was there with Max Ernst and Paul Eluard, other members of the Dada movement.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, Salzburg and the Austrian Tirol had become highly desirable destinations. This popularity was confirmed in 1920, when director Max Reinhardt, composer Richard Strauss and author Hugo von Hofmannsthal created the Salzburg Festival, an annual summer operatic festival attracting a cultured and elegant audience.
In the early 1930s, Gabrielle Chanel loved to visit the famous ski station of Saint‑Moritz, and it was here that she met Baron Hubert von Pantz, a dashing Austrian aristocrat. Elegant and courtly, he had all the traits to charm Gabrielle Chanel, with whom he had a two-year affair. In these early years of the 1930s, he bought Schloss Mittersill, a castle he transformed into a prestigious luxury hotel.
Schloss Mittersill was an instant success and in 1936, the American edition of Vogue magazine referred to it as: "the most talked-of place in Austria". With his high standards and exquisite manners, Hubert von Pantz attracted high ranking guests from the elite, including the Duc de Gramont and the Marquise de Polignac; but also artists such as Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks and Cole Porter, all drawn in by the hotel's refined atmosphere as well as its traditional character. It offered many activities, ranging from golf to hikes on the glaciers, as well as shopping, an opportunity for this swanky clientèle to buy traditional Loden garments. It was at Mittersill that Gabrielle Chanel noticed the impeccable jackets worn by the hotel's elevator operators… A garment that she would remember in the early 1950s, when she created the iconic jacket of the Chanel suit, worn in 1961 by her friend, Austrian-born actress Romy Schneider...
The actress Romy Schneider during a fitting with Gabrielle Chanel in 1961
Photo Giancarlo Botti ©BOTTI/STILLS/GAMMA
August 18th, 2014Par Françoise-Claire Prodhon
1913: The Normandy coast with its expansive gray-blue skies and beaches still resembled the representations depicted by Eugène Boudin and the Impressionists at the turn of the 19th century... There was no swimming, or very little at most... Visitors splashed about or baited for shrimp, and the more elegant among them were seated under their parasols or withdrew into their canvas sun tents, wearing the same restrictive outfits on the sand as they wore in town. All of them were still unaware that a revolution was underway...
1913 was the year when Coco Chanel chose to open her first fashion boutique on rue Gontaut-Biron in Deauville.
This young woman, who successfully opened her first hat store in 1910 called "Chanel Modes" located at 21 rue Cambon in Paris, had established a formidable reputation and had already won over the most elite socialites of the time. However, it was in Deauville where she was the first to invent a sporty sense of style that reflected a changing society, a style that would forever alter the course of women's history.
Here at this chic resort destination she sold her wide-brimmed hats that were simply decorated with a single feather or ribbon. Yet most importantly, she offered wealthy clients open-air apparel that she displayed along Deauville’s famous boardwalk. The selection notably included the fisherman-inspired striped jersey sweater: yet again, she was able to reinvent a masculine garment and transform a classic work wear item into something comfortable for women who were ever so ready to be liberated from the heavy, corseted silhouette imposed by the “Belle Epoque”. Other outfits followed that embodied casual chic and successfully put everything else out of fashion: striped shirts, sailor pants, and beach pajamas that she accessorized with pearls and camellias loosely stitched to the belt or collar lapel. In Deauville, Gabrielle's boldness paired with the elegance of Adrienne (her young aunt) and her sister Antoinette (both dressed by Chanel) was as surprising as it was seductive. Gabrielle Chanel breathed new life and fresh air into fashion, fully embracing the spirit of the times, which the Avant-gardists were also doing at the same time in other creative fields such as painting, sculpture, literature, poetry, and music.
Françoise Claire Prodhon
Photo © All Rights Reserved
August 6th, 2014Par Françoise-Claire Prodhon
The relationship between Gabrielle Chanel and the Basque coast dates back to 1915. It was Arthur “Boy” Capel who introduced her to Biarritz while on leave from his military duties. The war that raged on relentlessly seemed far off while at this famous seaside resort: many wealthy women had fled Paris to seek refuge there and spent quiet, peaceful days at the seaside. Gabrielle Chanel was captivated by the smart and stylish atmosphere of Biarritz. It was here that she decided to open her first couture house in 1915 in a villa facing the casino.
She experienced instant success: neighboring Spain was neutral during the war, and orders poured in from Spanish royalty and very wealthy clients, as well as from French clients who were won over by the innovative luxury of Chanel. Biarritz had also served as a resort destination for Russian aristocrats since the 19th century, who purchased and built numerous villas there. After the fall of the czar, many of them sought refuge in Biarritz. It was here in 1920 that Gabrielle Chanel met Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovitch, cousin of the czar, with whom she had an affair until 1922. She spent much time with him at various villas along the Basque coast. In 1920, Gabrielle Chanel became the symbol of elegance, introducing the world to a modern sense of style that she embodied ever so perfectly. It was reflected in her streamlined silhouettes, ankles revealed by shortened skirts and dresses, simple garments with clean lines, and soft materials such as jersey knit, fabrics so comfortable that she made swimsuits from them, in addition to the jacket and skirt suits that she was the first to wear.
While enjoying freedom, an outdoor lifestyle and the modern winds that were blowing around her, Gabrielle Chanel cut her hair short and exposed herself to the sun. Women quickly followed suit, mimicking the look that would foreshadow the profound changes yet to come of a society heading full steam into the 20th century.
Françoise Claire Prodhon
Photo © CHANEL - Collection Bernstein-Grüber
July 31st, 2014Par Jean Lebrun
When it comes to the history of fashion, there are some people we can know inside and out - for example, Jean Patou, who died prematurely, had his archives carefully preserved, classified and communicated: Emmanuelle Polle was able to research these archives in 2013 and summarize the essentials in a single book.
Legend has it that during their lifetime, Patou and Chanel could not stand to be in the same room together. In terms of history, legend is once again correct. Chanel is of a completely different kind than Patou. She left behind many footsteps but very few written sources, as she herself would become lost in the maze of her constantly reinvented memories: we are perhaps the ninety-fifth to publish a book about her, and with each new work that emerges, the picture becomes even fuzzier, and the essence of who she is escapes us even more.
This project, entitled "Notre Chanel" (Our Chanel), was written in attempt to surpass this difficulty by recounting what Gabrielle meant to two men, Bernard and Jean, who investigated her life nearly a quarter century ago. One of these men has since passed. The other has reopened the case, but has endeavored not to produce yet another biography. Rather, this work is like a stained glass window – a lateral stained glass window – in which Bernard and Jean contemplate in the corner reserved for the faces of donors, yet are unable to reach the face that brought them together through a task never completed. It is a window in which Gabrielle is most certainly not depicted as a saint, but rather as a magical fairy-like being: a ray of her glory suddenly falls on Bernard, who was lost to us too early, and he, who was forgotten, finds some light shed on his path.
"Notre Chanel” (Our Chanel), Jean Lebrun, Bleu autour.
January 16th, 2014
Based on a series of intimate conversations between Morand and Coco Chanel, written in the great storyteller's prose, this book artfully sketches the character of the elusive, mysterious and charming creature who inspired Malraux to say; "Chanel , De Gaulle and Picasso are the greatest figures of our times." Hailed on its publication in 1976 as "a great celebration of a book, a finely cut, sparkling gem", The Allure of Chanel attracted the attention of Karl Lagerfeld, who embellished it with seventy-three drawings, sketched for this special illustrated edition.*
*Summary from the inside front cover written by Pushkin Press
Illustration by Karl Lagerfeld p. 130
Deluxe Illustrated Edition published by Pushkin Press