Arebel at heart, with strong emotions and even stronger convictions, Gabrielle Chanel was a woman of many passions and loves—not least in the form of powerful men A who revelled in the wake of her fiercely independent spirit, and opened doors to new experiences and opportunities.
“It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong. And if he’s stronger than [me], I’m the one who can’t live with him,” quipped the designer. And so hers was a life dotted with a string of lustrous lovers, each as precious and treasured as the gleaming orbs she wound around her neck. They left an indelible mark on her and, more often than not, steered her life in profound ways.
Étienne Balsan piqued Chanel’s love for textiles and horses. He also introduced her to the greatest love of her life, Boy Capel, who not only financed her fashion boutiques, but also influenced her fashion creations with his personal style. Then, there was the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, with whom she had a love affair that was as intense as it was brief. He reportedly introduced her to Ernest Beaux, the man who helped her create Chanel No. 5, as well as introduced her to a whole new culture and design vocabulary that would colour her imagination for the rest of her life.
“Although Gabrielle Chanel never set foot in Russia, it remained for her an imagined country, persistently dreamed about,” says Director of the Chanel Jewellery Creation Studio, Patrice Leguéreau. “This specific High Jewelry Collection is my interpretation of the influence that [came through] Gabrielle Chanel’s encounter with the Grand Duke Dmitri and all her [exiled] Russian friends she met in Paris. The vocabulary of her fashion was enriched and transformed: She introduced long tunics, pea jackets, fur-trimmed coats, loose blouses worn belted, based on the design of the traditional rubashka. It’s all these universes that inspired me.” Here, he shares about the influences that shaped Chanel’s latest high jewellery collection, Le Paris Russe de Chanel.
Tell us more about this year’s high jewellery collection.
Le Paris Russe de Chanel recounts how Gabrielle Chanel drew inspiration from the Russian culture she discovered through her encounters with Russian nobility and artists, her Russian friends and lovers who had sought exile in Paris after 1917 [in the wake of the Russian Revolution]. Each of the designs from the collection is a tribute to the many Russian inspirations that were conceived as the memories and dreams of a country Mademoiselle Chanel never visited.
Clockwise from top: A close‑up view of the Roubachka necklace. Gabrielle Chanel wearing a Russian‑ inspired shirt (1923). The Sarafane necklace and earrings in white gold with cultured pearls and diamonds. White gold, yellow gold and diamond Blé Gabrielle bracelet, Chanel. Gabrielle Chanel with Russian‑French dancer, choreographer and ballet master, Serge Lifar, at a gala dinner in Monte Carlo (1933). White gold, yellow gold, cultured pearl and diamond Medaille Solaire earrings, Chanel. French actress and Chanel ambassador Alma Jodorowsky wearing the Aigle Protecteur necklace in platinum with diamonds. Gold, spinel, garnet and tourmaline Blé Maria tiara, Chanel
From top: The sizable Aigle Cambon cuff in gold with quartz and diamonds. Director of the Chanel Jewellery Creation Studio, Patrice Leguéreau. Gold, platinum, and yellow and white diamond Roubachka necklace, Chanel
The past three years has seen the House connecting its high jewellery collections to Gabrielle Chanel’s passionate affairs with men. Tell us more about this.
Mademoiselle Chanel drew profound inspiration from the men in her life to unleash her talent, and often borrowed elements from men’s fashion to liberate women’s style. Thus, recent high jewellery collections such as Flying Cloud [of 2017] and [last year’s] Coromandel constitute an ode, and pay tribute, to the meetings with these men. The nautical inspiration for Flying Cloud comes, of course, from the second Duke of Westminster Hugh Grosvenor’s yacht. Grosvenor was one of the men who undoubtedly counted the most in Gabrielle Chanel’s life— not only for vacation and sailing, but also a way of life where luxury was amazing and time was suspended. For Coromandel, we know that she discovered the panels in the 1910s with Boy Capel, her great love. From her mansion at Avenue de New-York to [her apartment at] Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, her suite at the Ritz Paris and then her villa at Lausanne in 1968, the screens followed her. For Le Paris Russe de Chanel, it is more a meeting with Russian friends and lovers such as the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, who introduced Mademoiselle Chanel to Russian culture, even if she had never visited the country. But as you know, there are a lot of other charismatic figures who played a key role in her life: Etienne Balsan, José-Maria Sert, Igor Stravinsky, Salvador Dalí, etc. So there’s a lot of possible universes of inspiration linked to these amazing artistic masculine figures who surrounded her!
What are some of the innovations that feature in this collection?
The Sarafane tiara demonstrates an amazing technical breakthrough in the way it transforms from a tiara to a necklace, while keeping soft and extremely supple. The tiara respects and references the very traditional Russian headpiece, the kokoshnik, and is the most challenging piece in the collection to produce: To tell the beautiful story of the Sarafane tiara, and to convey its traditional and cultural aspects while giving the twoway porté of a piece modernity.
What are you most proud of having achieved with this collection?
Each new collection is a challenge. This one was inspired by a very rich universe—the Russian influences of Gabrielle Chanel. I’m proud to have created a full, rich and coherent collection of 69 pieces that is easily identifiable with its sources. It’s a full collection of never-seen-before high jewellery pieces and immediately, at its launch in Paris last July, the collection was extremely successful and strongly appreciated.