PREFACE THE COROMANDEL LEGEND
Gabrielle Chanel's obsession with a lover inspired a lifelong infatuation with an object — Coromandel screens. Scenes of flora and fauna, landscapes of places afar, once etched into Chinese lacquer are now reborn, inspiring a high jewellery collection where flowers bloom in diamonds, and mother-of-pearl clouds are suspended in the air.
CHAPTER 1 EAST MEETS WEST
“THE FIRST TIME I SAW A COROMANDEL SCREEN, I CRIED OUT: 'HOW BEAUTIFUL!’ I HAD NEVER SAID THAT ABOUT ANY OBJECT BEFORE.”Gabrielle Chanel
WHEN YOU ASCEND THE ICONIC STAIRCASE AT 31 RUE CAMBON, YOU DO SO WITH A GREAT SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
At the top of the stairs, behind a heavy, mirror-clad door, lies the private apartment of Gabrielle Chanel.
There is the oft-photographed couch; seemingly endless rows of leather-bound books; and screen upon screen of Coromandel screens. The first screen of this series was a gift from Boy Capel; the great love of Coco Chanel's life. After Boy’s death, Gabrielle would spend the rest of her days surrounding herself with these screens. With Boy.
IT IS HERE THAT WE ARE REMINDED THAT WHILE SHE DIED A LEGEND, SHE LIVED VERY MUCH AS A WOMAN —
CREATING, COLLECTING, DEFYING, LOVING.
In the foyer of the apartment, almost every surface is a Coromandel screen. The screens have been taken apart, unhinged, adhered like wall coverings, and then combined with French influences and objects, for a distinctly CHANEL point of view. With a dizzying, labyrinth-like effect, mirrors cover surfaces that aren’t screens, reflecting the Coromandel (all the same) and allowing them to be admired from every angle.
As with everything she loved, the Coromandel screens became as omnipresent as Gabrielle herself in her offerings to women. The lining of a suit jacket from her 1958 Haute Couture collection was printed with Coromandel, like a secret next to the skin. Screens became set pieces for fashion shows, backdrops for promotional pictures, and elements in advertising campaigns.
The Coromandel has inspired the haute couture of Karl Lagerfeld, a heady, amber-infused fragrance by Jacques Polge, and most recently, this collection by the jewellery Studio de Création, each interpretation further weaving these mythic screens ever more deeply into the legend of the Maison.
"There, in the midst of countless Coromandel screens, we found Boy Capel," in a profound way, as magical as the screens themselves, this is where he would remain forever.
CHAPTER 2 FAUNA
“I'VE LOVED CHINESE SCREENS SINCE I WAS EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD... I NEARLY FAINTED WITH JOY WHEN, ENTERING A CHINESE SHOP, I SAW A COROMANDEL FOR THE FIRST TIME.SCREENS WERE THE FIRST THING I BOUGHT.”Gabrielle Chanel
Mademoiselle Chanel was known to cut, pin, sew, unsew, repin, resew and so on, as many times as was required to achieve the desired effect. This process was not merely her relentless drive for perfection, but rather, the creative process, personified.
OBJECTS OF QUALITY REQUIRE IDEAS, PATIENCE, ENERGY, CRAFT—
Characteristics that are inherent to the traditional savoir-faire techniques used in the creation of the Maison’s high jewellery, a process that, from beginning to end, is done entirely by hand, imbuing these pieces with palpable energy.
In the creation of this high jewellery collection, the Coromandel screens, with their endless, inspiring narratives, were first distilled down into a series of motifs, each representing an order of nature: flora, fauna, and mineral.
THE NEXT STEP IS THE PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF THE IDEA: THE SKETCH
A specific bird from the foyer of the apartment is caught in an unexpected moment of flight, exuding a sense of movement, joy and play, all captured by the artisan.
REBORN IN WHITE AND YELLOW DIAMONDS, THE BIRD IS RELEASED TO GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
In the traditional codes of the Coromandel, birds represent the Emperor and the Empress. We can imagine this bird in majestic flight, embodying the spirit of Gabrielle Chanel, ever residing over her empire.
CHAPTER 3 FLORA
WHILE THE PERSONA AND INFLUENCE OF GABRIELLE CHANEL WAS NOTORIOUSLY ELUSIVE AND LARGER THAN LIFE, HER APARTMENT AT 31 RUE CAMBON WAS PRIVATE AND SURPRISINGLY INVITING, LESS A STATEMENT OF GRANDEUR, AND MORE A REFLECTION OF A LIFE BEING LIVED.
The distinctiveness of the apartment lies in its size, which surprisingly does not permit one to visualise the Coromandel screens as a whole with their sweeping horizontal narratives. Instead, the eye falls upon each detail, and wanders freely across the lacquer surface, along the thorny line of an elegant stem, to a white Camellia of noble beauty, a story unfolding across each panel of the screen.
In the high jewellery collection, these details are translated into stones: pink sapphire petals give way to green tourmaline leaves, which are nestled into screens of white diamonds. The viewer is forced to pause and gaze, to travel to the depths of the Mint tsavorite garnet, before languidly roving down cascading beads, each carved by hand from green tourmaline, where the splendour of the necklace is revealed.
Another necklace in the collection is called Evocation Florale, a diamond creation meant to conjure the Coromandel screens. With floral scenes representing life in Coromandel tradition, and evocation meaning the act of summoning past spirits or memories, we cannot help but reminisce about another life...
— MADEMOISELLE CHANEL AMIDST HER COROMANDEL SCREENS, HER EVERPRESENT SPIRIT THAT INSPIRES US ALL.
CHAPTER 4 MINERAL
“WHEN I LOOK AT THIS SCREEN IN THE EVENING, I SEE DOORS OPENING AND HORSEMEN GOING OUT RIDING.”Gabrielle Chanel
France, under the influence of Louis XIV, became enthralled with Asian imports, the 18th century emerging as an age of Chinoiserie, French culture conjuring romantic notions of these mythical objects from places afar. The Coromandel screens — of Chinese creation by way of India’s Coromandel coast — were in the highest demand.
FOR GABRIELLE CHANEL, THE SCREENS WHICH WERE INTRODUCED TO HER BY HER LOVE BOY CAPEL, BECAME AN ENDLESS SOURCE OF INSPIRATION.
BIRDS FLIT ABOUT; LANDSCAPES REVEAL STORIES OF OLD; WHITE CAMELLIA FLOWERS BLOOM, ALL ETCHED IN CHINESE LACQUER ON THE SURFACE OF THE COROMANDEL.
The horizontal narrative of the screens builds, punctuated only by vertical panels. Each scene is a profusion of detail surrounded by a border, a visual frieze consistent in all Coromandel screens, and a theme thoughtfully incorporated into the high jewellery collection they have inspired.
A tension emerges between dichotomous elements, constraint versus freedom, creating a story within a frame. This influence is echoed in the high jewellery collection, both the screens and the pieces embody a paradox, a concept beloved by Mademoiselle Chanel.
THE APARTMENT ON RUE CAMBON WAS GABRIELLE'S PRIVATE PLACE TO DREAM.
While she would never go to Asia in her lifetime, never experience the culture that birthed these beloved objects, perhaps she made that journey in her imagination, there, on the couch of her apartment, amongst her collection of Coromandel screens.
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