This month, a new exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London pays tribute to Mademoiselle’s amazing legacy, including her Haute Couture and Chanel jewellery, as well as the evolution of the brand under Karl Lagerfeld, who has been head designer and creative director of Chanel since 1983.
A pioneer of 20th century fashion, no other designer has even come close to achieving the same iconic status as the inimitable Coco Chanel. From the tweed jacket and the little black dress to the quilted bag and, of course, string upon string of gleaming white pearls - her signature style is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.
Gabrielle Chanel made her first foray into the world of fine jewellery in 1932 when the ground-breaking Bijoux de Diamants collection was unveiled, which was unlike anything Parisian society had previously encountered. Rather than displaying the magnificent diamonds in glass trays, they were worn by life-like wax models dotted around her townhouse on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré.
Mademoiselle had originally planned to show the jewels in London but the stringent British Customs regulations prevented that from happening. So it is fitting that now, more than 80 years later, the Saatchi Gallery will host the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition, which includes re-editions of the Bijoux de Diamants jewels. In 2012, the Maison launched the Chanel 1932 collection of 80 pieces that echo the themes of the original collection, with iconic motifs such as stars, comets, suns, bows and feathers.
The free-spirited, charismatic Chanel eschewed all rules when it came to wearing her jewellery, stacking several pieces together or mixing real gems with the costume jewels she was also so fond of. Like their predecessors, the jewels in the Chanel 1932 collection are free of clasps and fastenings, and are as easy to wear as a scarf draped casually around the neck or a ribbon tied in the hair.
A huge fan of transformable jewellery, which can be worn in more than one way, Coco Chanel said in an interview around the time of the Bijoux de Diamants exhibition: “I have a horror of clasps. Yet my jewellery pieces can be reassembled. See this necklace; you can instantly make it into three bracelets and a brooch.” Similarly, a Chanel brooch could either be worn pinned to a lapel in the traditional way, to accentuate a waistband on an evening dress, or as a sparkling hair accessory.
The teaser video for the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition shows Kristen Stewart, Julianne Moore, Keira Knightley, Vanessa Paradis and her daughter Lily Rose Depp all wearing Chanel jewellery from the Bijoux de Diamants collection, including an iconic Toi et Moi ring and the necklace in the shape of a diamond-studded bow. What strikes you immediately is just how modern these jewels look, eight decades after Chanel decided to turn her attention to the exclusive world of fine jewellery.
At the Saatchi exhibition, the jewels are displayed alongside Karl Lagerfeld’s Haute Couture creations, as well as a series of portraits depicting the celebrities in their Chanel finery taken by Karl himself in Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment. Among the many must-see pieces are the Soleil yellow diamond Chanel brooch and the shooting stars headband.
As the revamped Chanel jewellery and watch boutique opens on London’s Bond Street next month, it's the perfect time to celebrate the creative journey that turned Mademoiselle Chanel into one of our most enduring style icons.
The Chanel Mademoiselle Privé exhibition is on from 13 October to 1 November at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London SW3 4RY. Admission free.