CHANEL AND AUSTRIA
BY FRANÇOISE-CLAIRE PRODHON
Austria captivated Gabrielle Chanel with its charm, atmosphere and mountainous landscape. She loved nature, sport and outdoor activities as much as cultural events and high society: Austria offered it all. In a letter to Jean Cocteau on July 16, 1922 she wrote: "Tzara is in Tirol - seems to be feeling better and happy - perhaps I will go there too". Like many artists at that time, Tristan Tzara was there with Max Ernst and Paul Eluard, other members of the Dada movement.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, Salzburg and the Austrian Tirol had become highly desirable destinations. This popularity was confirmed in 1920, when director Max Reinhardt, composer Richard Strauss and author Hugo von Hofmannsthal created the Salzburg Festival, an annual summer operatic festival attracting a cultured and elegant audience.
In the early 1930s, Gabrielle Chanel loved to visit the famous ski station of Saint-Moritz, and it was here that she met Baron Hubert von Pantz, a dashing Austrian aristocrat. Elegant and courtly, he had all the traits to charm Gabrielle Chanel, with whom he had a two-year affair. In these early years of the 1930s, he bought Schloss Mittersill, a castle he transformed into a prestigious luxury hotel.
Schloss Mittersill was an instant success and in 1936, the American edition of Vogue magazine referred to it as: "the most talked-of place in Austria". With his high standards and exquisite manners, Hubert von Pantz attracted high ranking guests from the elite, including the Duc de Gramont and the Marquise de Polignac; but also artists such as Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks and Cole Porter, all drawn in by the hotel's refined atmosphere as well as its traditional character. It offered many activities, ranging from golf to hikes on the glaciers, as well as shopping, an opportunity for this swanky clientèle to buy traditional Loden garments. It was at Mittersill that Gabrielle Chanel noticed the impeccable jackets worn by the hotel's elevator operators… A garment that she would remember in the early 1950s, when she created the iconic jacket of the Chanel suit, worn in 1961 by her friend, Austrian-born actress Romy Schneider...
The actress Romy Schneider during a fitting with Gabrielle Chanel in 1961
Giancarlo Botti ©BOTTI/STILLS/GAMMA