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.

(0) La légende Coromandel

CHAPTER 1 EAST MEETS WEST

(1) L’Orient rencontre l’Occident

“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.

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Gabrielle Chanel, photographed in 1937, with one of her beloved Coromandel screens. Photography by Lipnitzki & Roger-Viollet. © Chanel / Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet

IT IS HERE THAT WE ARE REMINDED THAT WHILE SHE DIED A LEGEND, SHE LIVED VERY MUCH AS A WOMAN —
CREATING, COLLECTING, DEFYING, LOVING.

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The entrance to Gabrielle Chanel's private apartment at 31 Rue Cambon, where the screens have been unhinged and displayed as wall coverings. © Robert Doisneau / Rapho

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.

The Coromandel screens became an extension of Gabrielle Chanel's offering to women, seen here in 1958 as set pieces for a fashion show. © Boris Lipnitzki/ Roger-Viollet

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For the 1958 Spring/Summer Haute Couture Collection, Gabrielle Chanel presented a suit with lamé lining that echoed the design of the Coromandel screens. © CHANEL Photo Max-Yves Brandily

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Photographed in Gabrielle Chanel's suite at The Ritz, Paris. This photograph, originally published in Harper's Bazaar in 1937, was selected for the first CHANEL N°5 perfume ad. Photography François Kollar © Ministère de la Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN, France

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.

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In 2012, the first watch collection "Mademoiselle Privé" paid tribute to the Coromandel screens of the apartment at 31 Rue Cambon. © CHANEL

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.

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Inspired by Coromandel screens, Karl Lagerfeld created three fully embroidered coats for the 1996 Autumn/Winter Haute Couture collection. © CHANEL

In 1917, the famous pianist and socialite Misia Sert described a dinner at Chanel’s apartment,"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

(2) Faune

“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
COMPOSITIONS OF FLORA AND FAUNA are frequently encountered within Coromandel screens. This particular bird, in its playful state of movement, was a primary source of inspiration.

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.

THE IDEA BECOMES A DRAWING, first a sketch of a silhouette, which grows more precise in detail and line, until it can find its place in a high jewellery collection.

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.

BEFORE CRIMPING THE BIRD WITH STONES,
the gold-cast body is deconstructed into pieces. A mould of each piece is created, which is then used during assembly to secure perfect proportion and precision.

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.

THE HIGH JEWELLERY PIECES ARE CRAFTED in the traditional savoir-faire method, exclusively by hand, producing works that embody a potent and palpable energy.

PRÉCIEUX ENVOL — WHICH TRANSLATED MEANS Precious Flight — is a collection comprising earrings, a necklace, and a ring, each piece a soaring bird, elevated in flight in white and yellow diamonds.

CHAPTER 3 FLORA

(3) Flore
IN THE APARTMENT OF GABRIELLE CHANEL, the eye wanders freely across the Coromandel screens as a narrative emerges through the details of each panel.

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.

A DRAWING IS SKETCHED ON TRACING PAPER. Watercolours bring it to life as the paint adds realism and detail. Here, the final decision is made, if the high jewellery piece will be brought to fruition and created.

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.

A FANCY, 3.52-CARAT YELLOW DIAMOND of the most vivid colour and purest clarity, is destined for a reversible cuff, where the stone will rotate and pivot, accommodating the whim of the wearer.

THE COROMANDEL SCREENS are a profusion of details surrounded by a border. A theme thoughtfully incorporated into the high jewellery collection they have inspired.

A 30.55-CARAT, CUSHION-CUT MINT TSAVORITE garnet punctuates a sautoir of green tourmaline beads, with decorative florals, Coromandel­inspired panels, interpreted in pink sapphires, green tourmalines and white diamonds.

CHAPTER 4 MINERAL

(4) Minéral

“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.

A MYSTICAL SCENE of West Lake in Hangzhou, China, found on a Coromandel screen in the apartment of Gabrielle Chanel, inspired this piece of high jewellery.

A GOUACHÉ PAINTING IS CREATED of the high jewellery piece, not only to capture technique, but replicating the light and the colour of the stones, and the emotion the piece evokes.

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 37.51-CARAT, emerald-cut, greenish-blue tourmaline, is carefully inspected before it is set into a ring of the mineral motif.

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.

THE HIGH JEWELRY COLLECTION IS IMBUED with luminosity, taking inspiration from the Coromandel screens, rather than being a literal translation of their dark and inky surfaces.

A NECKLACE IS INSPIRED BY A COROMANDEL landscape, with cloud culminated in mother-of-pearl, mineral stratum in diamonds and gold, and magical trees of white diamonds, encompassing a flawless, colourless, oval-cut, 6.52-carat diamond.

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