Is your home as fashionable as you are? Are you as fashionable as your home?
If your house was a fashion house which one would it be?
GABRIELLE (COCO) CHANEL: PARISIAN CHARM
An interior is a natural projection of the soul
~ Coco Chanel
Signature Style Gabrielle Chanel (1883-1971) began as a milliner and ended as the doyenne of the world’s most famous fashion house and creator of the world’s most popular fragrance. She forever altered fashion by introducing a modern simplicity to women’s clothing with her tailored, yet feminine, aesthetic.
Her iconic trademarks: the little black dress (Le petit noir, 1926), the tweed Chanel suit (debuted at her comeback collection at the age of 71 on February 5, 1954), the two-toned shoes, the mix of multiple strands of pearls with chains and coloured stones, all these Chanel signatures look as chic and modern today as when she designed them. Classic and timeless in silhouette and palette, Chanel is worn by teens and also by their grandmothers. Coco Chanel exalted the luxury of simplicity, but in the creation of such fashion, she insisted on a perfection of workmanship and quality of materials. This is why a Chanel garment can be passed on from mother to daughter. No ephemeral accoutrement here; Chanel was built to last.
Chanel ‘s private surroundings were exotic, idiosyncratic, luxurious and glamorous. Her apartment in the building she bought in the 1920’s at 31 Rue Cambon for her very successful fashion business (still Chanel headquarters to this day), was used solely for working and entertaining (there is no bedroom, although the sofa looks comfy for napping) because in fact she lived at Place Vendôme at the Paris Ritz across the street.
There are four floors to Maison Chanel: the Chanel shop on the ground level; the Haute Couture atelier on the second floor; her apartment on the third level ; and Chanel’s workshop (now Karl Lagerfeld’s office) on the fourth. From the rooftop are reportedly some of the best views of Paris.
Chanel was a design genius. The incredible Art Deco faceted, mirrored spiral staircase she designed herself, connected all four stories of 31 Rue Cambon and allowed her to view all levels from a certain vantage without being seen herself. Carpeted, as Mademoiselle directed, in “a colour like sand,” the staircase was sprayed every morning with Chanel N°5 just moments before her arrival, her staff alerted by The Ritz where she kept a suite.
Chanel’s private apartment, preserved since her death in 1971, is filled with clues as to her complex personality, her passions, as well as her design sensibility.There are the camellias on the ornate 17th century Oriental screens that line the walls—these perfectly symmetrical pure-white flowers became a recurring motif for the Chanel fashion house. “Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel fell head over heels for the camellia after one was given to her by her polo-playing lover, Boy Capel. She started pinning silk versions to her lapels, her hair and the blossoms found a home on the black-and-gold-laquered Coromandel screens in her apartment …” (Elle Magazine).
The diagonally-quilted cushions on her 1920’s custom-made suede sofa match her iconic quilted handbags;
An exquisite chandelier of crystal, amethyst, and topaz which Chanel designed contains within its pattern the intertwined Cs imaging the Chanel logo, as well as the form of the number 5, referencing the name of her fragrance and her superstitious belief that 5 was her lucky number.
The shape of the hexagonal mirror in the entryway of the apartment was modelled for the stopper of the Chanel N°5 bottle, as well as many Chanel watch faces. For Mademoiselle Chanel, style was everywhere, you just had to see it.
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” ~ Coco Chanel
COLOUR Like the nun’s habits Chanel saw everyday during her childhood at the orphanage of the Catholic monastery of Aubazine, black and white was a duo that came to symbolize the Chanel brand. Chanel took the colour black—reserved since Victorian times for mourning attire—and made it chic for everyday—both day and night. It was she who is credited with inventing “the little black dress”. The LBD originated from a Chanel design which appeared as a sketch in American Vogue in 1926. The chic, long-sleeved design in unlined crèpe de chine was christened the Ford dress by the magazine’s editors after the era’s black Ford motor car, predicting that it would become sort of a uniform for all women of taste. How right they were.
During a recent Chanel runway show, Karl Lagerfeld referred to the founder as The Queen of Beige (see my post here). The label’s iconic beige and black combination was Chanel’s sartorial favourite. And, of course, gold, and pearls went with everything.
You leave in the morning wearing beige and black, you have lunch in beige and black, and you attend a cocktail party in beige and black. You’re dressed for the entire day!
~ Coco Chanel at the presentation of the two-tone slingback in 1957, calling them “the last touch of elegance”.
TEXTILES Like her clothes, Chanel designed her sofa to be both comfortable and beautiful. She chose caramel-coloured suede upholstery which was highly unusual both in colour and fabrication at the time. Typically, sofas were covered in velvet or silk. In a stroke of brilliance and modernity, Chanel had the matching back cushions quilted and added black leather ones as well. The sofa has been endlessly copied and remains stylish to this day. (Television’s Dr. Frazier Crane’s couch for example: The show’s set designers spent almost half a million dollars to give Frasier’s apartment its ‘eclectic’ look. The Coco Chanel replica sofa was covered with 24 yards of Italian suede for an estimated cost of about $15,000.)
Coco was beautiful, talented, and iconoclastic. She was the mistress of rich and powerful men who set her up in business, but it was ultimately Chanel who created her own great success. As a young woman, she borrowed clothes from her lover’s closet, confidently sporting menswear tweeds, and, in a era when women never wore pants, she tailored wide-legged trousers paired with jaunty hats of her own creation and made it all look chic, becoming, and exciting. In 1913, a lover—the English businessman Boy Capel, enabled her to open a boutique on Rue Gontaut Biron in Deauville. It was here in the seaside resort where Chanel first premièred her breakout style.
She revolutionized fashion when she opened a shop in Paris featuring relaxed sportswear sewn out of jersey (never before adopted for women’s clothing—the fabric was traditionally reserved for men’s underwear!). These softly draped garments provided women with comfort and ease of movement—a radical departure from the restrictive, stiff corseted silhouette of the day. Chanel said they were designed for a woman, which at the time, didn’t exist. Fifty years later, Diane von Furstenburg launched her fashion career with “a suitcase full of jersey dresses” (DVF website) and in 1974 her iconic jersey wrap dresses were launched for a generation of women that certainly did exist. In fact, over a million of the dresses were sold within two years and Diane von Furstenburg was featured on the cover of Newsweek. She relaunched the wrap dress after a twenty-year hiatus to an encore of acclaim, and remains today a strong seller in every year and season, proving that the jersey dress is indeed, timeless.
Coco Chanel’s modern, sophisticated clothes, combined with her striking bobbed haircut and tan, articulated her as a cutting edge fashion icon. Her sagacity and instinct that sensed the Zeitgeist of a post-war society that longed for not only peace, but simplier things than the upper class was accustomed to, allowed Mme.Chanel to do the unexpected and unprecedented before anyone else had even thought to do so. Chanel thereby not only set the style of the times, she created a real fashion genre that indelibly defined the epoch.
However ironically, Chanel dressed the beau monde in clothing inspired from humble sources: nuns (the black dresses), waitresses (crisp white collar and cuffs), workers (sailors’ collars and wide-legged, bell-bottomed trousers—Chanel called hers Beach Pyjamas, the navy and white striped, long-lined Breton Fisherman Sweater, or chandail, worn by Norman fishermen; the ditch-digger’s scarf; mechanics’ tunics); as well as grand and religious sources: the buttons, chains, and tassels of military regalia; jewellery modelled on Byzantine crosses.
Never before in history had women dressed—or looked—like this until the Parisian couturier, Coco Chanel, changed the mode of fashion forever.
ACCESSORIES Chanel surrounded herself with things she loved and believed in: mirrors, chandeliers, pearls, camellias, crystals, icons. She had two marble tops on side tables in her apartment replaced with glistening black lacquer ones. Everywhere was gold and more gold—the wallpaper, a tiny jewelled birdcage, numerous lion sculptures (Chanel’s Leo star sign), the gold fire dogs, gilt mirrors, sheaves of wheat, and a lavish gift from the richest man in England: three crested, vermeil, gold-lined cigarette boxes—from the Duke of Westminster. The precious gold metal hidden from view inside was a notion of luxury for ones self, an “invisible perfection” that was an important Chanel principle.
Personal items and meaningful symbols make the small apartment intimate and enchanting; gifts of art from her friends (an ancient Russian icon from Igor Stravinsky, a golden hand sculpted for her by Alberto Giacometti, and a shaft of wheat painted by Salvador Dali); and many, many beautiful leather-bound books.
In her fashion, and in her spirit, the Chanel legend lives on.
Post Photo: Chanel Ad; Shalom Harlow; Photo by Patrick Demarchelier, 1996. Frazier’s replica sofa quote source.