Written by Ludovica Colacino,
photographed by Dominika Wojciechowska.
Mademoiselle Privé. In case we needed another proof of Karl Lagerfeld’s incredible sense of aesthetic and understanding of Chanel – Saatchi Gallery hosted an exhibition about it – curated by the German designer himself. However, once we step into the first room, we do not intend it anymore as an exhibition alone, but rather a retrospective on Gabrielle Chanel and how her brand came to life.
The first thing we see is Lagerfeld’s life-sized sketch of the woman behind the brand: it is almost as if she’s waiting for us at the door, welcoming to her home. The exhibition begins in the living room, giving us a sense of familiarity as we see the iconic mirror stairs, and books about Chanel on a few shelves; around them, a few camellias – the signature flower of the brand – are decorating the scene. We keep on walking through what was Gabrielle Chanel’s life as we enter the room designed to resemble her first boutique at the number 18 Place Vendôme. The sketched outlines of the dresses and furniture on the wall give us an approximate idea of what was her reality, her everyday – narrated by a recorded voice, meant to be intended as Gabrielle’s. In the following rooms, we can see how Chanel has been inspired by her travels: Scotland’s tweed and Venice marked a turning point for the designer.
Next, Lagerfeld has connected our reality with Chanel’s through the use of technological means, animating sketches and creating hidden content that can only be unlocked using the official app, while walking around every room – eg. the painted ‘Mademoiselle Privé’ door is meant to open when framed by the phone’s camera.
Slowly we are detached from Gabrielle Chanel’s life and inspirations – diving into the creative process of giving the shape to the brand. Unbreakable foundations are fundamental in order to maintain a fashion house standing throughout the years, and to reach greatness. The room of totems represents Chanel’s strength: tradition. Red, white, black, pearls, camellias, and Chanel n°5 – every iconic element has been represented as a sculpture in the room, underlining how they are fundamental pieces of Chanel’s fashion. It all leaves a room for daydreams as we reach the stars with the [High Jewellery] “Bijoux de Diamants“, inspired by the constellation, and we go beyond through to the next room. Lagerfeld’s tribute to craftsmanship takes place in a large, dark room. Endless rolls of different fabrics – at first all white, than black – are unwrapped and falling from the ceiling; getting lost is required in order to see what the fabric conceals. Sound is the only hint we have for finding the place of the small projectors hidden in the room: they show a vintage-like outline of artisans dressing up models with the creations that are still relevant today.
“Mademoiselle Privé” is a multi sensorial retrospective, and Karl Lagerfeld proves that by putting Chanel n°5 under the spotlight; the scents of the ingredients fill up the Chanel n°5 Room as the wells they are contained in open and close. Smell is the sense that has the strongest bound with memories, and Chanel n°5’s purpose is to make anybody who wears it unforgettable. Olivier Polge’s quote about the perfume overtakes an entire wall of the room. “N°5 is the grammar of a style. It is the grammar of Chanel fragrances. It’s a revolutionary fragrance, especially in its abstraction which opened the way to modern perfumery. The mysterious composition of its floral accords with any reference to an identified flower makes it audacious. Gabrielle Chanel indisputably linked the world of perfumery to fashion. N°5 was the first fragrance to wear the name of a fashion designer.”
Lagerfeld’s fashion fantasy continues in the Jardine à la Française, which is a representation of Chanel’s intertwined “C.C.” logo, with a tinge of upper class 18th century Paris. Lagerfeld’s influence rises again at the Haute Couture and the art of the Savoir-Faire room: we finally manage to see the clothes exposed, but they acquire almost a supernatural appearance because the only source of light is the white neon passing through them. Even if Karl’s presence is not evidently proclaimed for most of the exhibition, we can still perceive him and his personal style from our surroundings.
It’s been almost forty years since Lagerfeld started working for Chanel, however we might say that the fashion designer met a few difficulties while revolutionizing the brand’s style. We see him, hunted by Gabrielle’s ghost – played by Geraldine Chaplin – in a short movie, and arguing with her of what Chanel has become. Lagerfeld and Chanel have both irreverent personalities and are unafraid of twisting fashion rules, and, as we walk out this Parisian dream at the very heart of London, we wonder what we’ll be the next move for Chanel.