23 February 2019
Korean supermodel Irene Kim helps present the Bijoux de Diamants jewelry collection. Photo: Katherine Li
Korean supermodel Irene Kim helps present the Bijoux de Diamants jewelry collection. Photo: Katherine Li

Coco Chanel is gone, but her influence lives on

Hong Kong fashionistas must have had their fill following Chanel’s month-long Mademoiselle Privé exhibition at the PMQ in Central.

The century-old fashion house established by Coco Chanel has long been a symbol of elegance and feminine boldness. Women across all ages covet its timeless and simple designs.

Mademoiselle Privé pays tribute to its founder by focusing on three areas: the iconic Chanel No. 5 fragrance, the reinvented haute couture by Karl Lagerfeld, and the Bijoux de Diamants jewelry collection.

Red is the color of life, of blood. – Coco Chanel

Red was one of colors closest to the French fashion designer’s heart. The red contemporary garden at the entrance of the exhibition was inspired by Russian artist Ilia Zdanevitch, who worked closely with Chanel on abstract textile designs.

The Camellia Light artwork – comprising three blooming camellias, Chanel’s favorite flower – is at the center of the red garden. The Line totem next to it represents effortless grace, while the Numbers totem made of domino blocks at the front is an assembly of the digits with significance to Chanel personally or to the brand.

No elegance is possible without perfume. It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory. – Coco Chanel

In 1921, Chanel chose the last scent among five presented by perfumer Ernest Beaux to launch her brand’s first perfume, the one we now know as Chanel No. 5. Beyond the entrance shaped like a perfume bottle is a dark room filled with scents and sounds. Behind free flowing curtains adorned with falling petals stands a structure made of pipe organs.

Signature scents, including those from ylang-ylang, may rose, and jasmine, are displayed on the industrial structure, their tantalizing aromas permeating the air while tunes simulating the sound dripping natural oils play in the background. In the darkness, all this accumulates to create a sensory overload.

Fashion fades, only style remains the same. – Coco Chanel

After a walk through staircases decorated with coromandel screens, visitors enter a maze made of different fabrics. These are materials used in Chanel’s couture collections and they frame the outfits on display in layers. Their soft and supple quality is magnified by the background sound of Chanel’s whispers and laughter. This creates a dream-like quality and a feeling of intimacy: visitors seem to be peeking into her private workspace.

Coco Chanel was the first to establish the philosophy of simplicity and practicality for women’s wear, but Karl Lagerfeld reinvented and reinterpreted her designs to better suit the changing times. Staples like wool and tweed, previously considered as low-class, were elevated to the status of elegance by Chanel’s genius, and given new life in Lagerfeld’s designs. However, he utilizes cutting-edge technology, such as 3D-printing, to give his designs a more creative twist. Industrial materials like wood and concrete are also applied to the dresses to bring out the multifaceted possibilities of modern outfits.

In addition, the haute couture garments demonstrated the savoir-faire and exceptional craftsmanship of Chanel’s artisans. Each outfit on display on the light tubes took over a hundred hours to finish, with one dress from the 1996 spring-summer collection taking 1,200 hours to complete. Just by looking at the intricate details and embroidery highlighted by blue lights can make one vicariously feel the amount of energy and passion the artisans invested into these outfits.

Jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful. – Coco Chanel

Chanel put together the Bijoux de Diamants jewelry collection in 1932. It was the only fine jewelry collection she ever designed. This re-edition revives the timeless beauty of the collection. International celebrities such as Irene Kim, Caroline de Maigret, and Alma Jodorowsky have adopted this jewelry to their own style.

Alongside a spinning birdcage with an enlarge Chanel necklace as the centerpiece, the collection is displayed on specific body parts of mannequins, as if they are not ornaments but beautiful extensions of the body that takes the shape of the wearer. They are unique in the sense that they can be reassembled to perform different functions. For instance, a necklace could also function as a tiara or a bracelet, which was a revolutionary concept. The lights make them twinkle in the semi-darkness, just like the celestial bodies that initially inspired Chanel to design this collection.

Coco Chanel is gone, but her influence is omnipresent in the world of fashion. Her legacy and contribution will stay to encourage and to inspire.

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International journalism student at Hong Kong Baptist University

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