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GABRIELLE CHANEL ET BIARRITZ

The relationship between Gabrielle Chanel and the Basque coast dates back to 1915. It was Arthur “Boy” Capel who introduced her to Biarritz while on leave from his military duties. The war that raged on relentlessly seemed far off while at this famous seaside resort: many wealthy women had fled Paris to seek refuge there and spent quiet, peaceful days at the seaside. Gabrielle Chanel was captivated by the smart and stylish atmosphere of Biarritz. It was here that she decided to open her first couture house in 1915 in a villa facing the casino.

She experienced instant success: neighboring Spain was neutral during the war, and orders poured in from Spanish royalty and very wealthy clients, as well as from French clients who were won over by the innovative luxury of Chanel. Biarritz had also served as a resort destination for Russian aristocrats since the 19th century, who purchased and built numerous villas there. After the fall of the czar, many of them sought refuge in Biarritz. It was here in 1920 that Gabrielle Chanel met Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovitch, cousin of the czar, with whom she had an affair until 1922. She spent much time with him at various villas along the Basque coast. In 1920, Gabrielle Chanel became the symbol of elegance, introducing the world to a modern sense of style that she embodied ever so perfectly. It was reflected in her streamlined silhouettes, ankles revealed by shortened skirts and dresses, simple garments with clean lines, and soft materials such as jersey knit, fabrics so comfortable that she made swimsuits from them, in addition to the jacket and skirt suits that she was the first to wear.

While enjoying freedom, an outdoor lifestyle and the modern winds that were blowing around her, Gabrielle Chanel cut her hair short and exposed herself to the sun. Women quickly followed suit, mimicking the look that would foreshadow the profound changes yet to come of a society heading full steam into the 20th century.

Françoise Claire Prodhon

Photo © CHANEL - Collection Bernstein-Grüber

summer-reading-notre-chanel-by-jean-lebrun

LECTURE D'ÉTÉ
"NOTRE CHANEL" PAR JEAN LEBRUN

When it comes to the history of fashion, there are some people we can know inside and out - for example, Jean Patou, who died prematurely, had his archives carefully preserved, classified and communicated: Emmanuelle Polle was able to research these archives in 2013 and summarize the essentials in a single book.

Legend has it that during their lifetime, Patou and Chanel could not stand to be in the same room together. In terms of history, legend is once again correct. Chanel is of a completely different kind than Patou. She left behind many footsteps but very few written sources, as she herself would become lost in the maze of her constantly reinvented memories: we are perhaps the ninety-fifth to publish a book about her, and with each new work that emerges, the picture becomes even fuzzier, and the essence of who she is escapes us even more.

This project, entitled "Notre Chanel" (Our Chanel), was written in attempt to surpass this difficulty by recounting what Gabrielle meant to two men, Bernard and Jean, who investigated her life nearly a quarter century ago. One of these men has since passed. The other has reopened the case, but has endeavored not to produce yet another biography. Rather, this work is like a stained glass window – a lateral stained glass window – in which Bernard and Jean contemplate in the corner reserved for the faces of donors, yet are unable to reach the face that brought them together through a task never completed. It is a window in which Gabrielle is most certainly not depicted as a saint, but rather as a magical fairy-like being: a ray of her glory suddenly falls on Bernard, who was lost to us too early, and he, who was forgotten, finds some light shed on his path.

"Notre Chanel” (Our Chanel), Jean Lebrun, Bleu autour.

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