Saturday, February 19, 2011

The "Swear On Chanel" Collection

Those little words uttered by Carrie Bradshaw to Aiden when dishing on Steve and Miranda's breakup seemed to stick to me as a fashion appreciator.  If the art of fashion had a religious following, the House of Chanel would be the most appropriate to lay your hand upon and swear the truth.

I was very lucky to be one of five winners of the book Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life by Justine Picardie from HarperCollins Canada, and it's a mesmerizing read.  Behind such an iconic figure and empire, one wouldn't expect such sorrow and sadness to help propel it to such heights.  I'm not quite done the book yet, and I suspect at the rate I'm reading I'll have it done before the month ends.  Yet so far, from what I have read about this astonishing woman, she was a force to be reckoned with.  Born in a poor house in Saunur, France in 1883, her childhood in an orphanage run by nuns, to her bourgeois lifestyle scorn with heartache, loss and death in her early adult years - and I'm only halfway through!  You can have a read of an except of the book here!

Nick had found a collection of vintage Chanel charms at a garage sale and brought them home for me a few months ago, because he's a good boyfriend. *sigh*  I had also received a $25 gift card from the good people of, and spent it wisely on the beautiful beads used in these pieces.  I had been waiting for the right setting for these charms, and the images in Justine's book have started to craft colours and silhouettes that I could shape around them.  Chanel believed in simplicity in design and well-cut garments.  "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury," Coco had once said.  These pieces pay tribute to the classic style of Coco Chanel and her contribution to timeless luxury fashion. 

Diamond-shaped white howlite with black veins dangle on gunmetal headpins from a silver-plated square-link chain, and a smokey grey acrylic bead dangles from the end.  The Chanel cut-out tag and Eiffel Tower stamp are both vintage pieces, repurposed from previous lives as souveniers of la vie en rose, n'est pas?  This is all secured around your wrist with a gunmetal lobster clasp.

Later sketches of the 'Ford' dress.
The 'Little Black Dress' bracelet.  Chanel has been credited for the basic uniform of chic women everywhere, the 'LBD' (now included in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary by the way!)  Surely every woman must have one in her wardrobe (my last count - three), and is the staple piece that is flattering to all shapes, for all occasions.  In her trademark reminiscing mystic, having a tendency to alter memories and events to suit her legacy, she tells a different story that took place in 1917.  Gabrielle was dressing for an evening at the opera with several friends, wearing a white gown made by her own modistes, her full and long hair gathered in three plaits of braids, "all that mass set straight atop that thin body."  (She complained about her hair and its maintenance, that it was "crushing me to death.")  While attending to the pilot light for the hot water in the bathroom, the tank had exploded and covered her dress in soot - "my hair - the less said, the better."  I could only imagine the secret glee when she called upon her maid to cut off the third braid of hair after Gabrielle herself had cut off the first two, all the while her friends were sobbing.  Unphased at her burnt hair and soot-stained dress, she quickly washed herself and stepped into "a black dress I had, crossed over in front - what a marvellous [sic] thing, youth - and caught in at the waist, with sort of a minaret on top."  Her appearance at the opera that night in short bobbed hair and little black dress, amidst jewel-toned gowns and large flopping hats adorned with butterflies and birds nests, would create a stir within the bourgeoisie; they were charmed at the "darling of the English" who became the "beauty of Paris."  When she returned home from the opera, the maid had washed and laid out the cut braids, "waiting for me in the bathroom like three dead bodies."  Thus was borne a tradition for Chanel, that she would cut off her own hair whenever she created a new fashion collection: "I've always plied the scissors."

Grey crystal fire-polished beads and black onyx chips are in a Y-shaped necklace, complete with two Chanel 'double-C' charms: one from a repurposed earrings and another authentic vintage find.  Two diamond-shaped white howlite beads sit symmetrically on either side, representing the stone blocks that create the structure of the abbey.

The Chanel Rosary.  Aubazine is the home of the orphanage that Chanel had lived since she was a child, soon after the death of her mother.  Her father had left her and her two sisters (her brothers were left elsewhere, most likely to a peasant family for unpaid labour) at the doorstep of a twelfth-century Cistercian monastery and abbey, founded by St. Etienne in 1135.  She was raised by the nuns of the abbey, the sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Mary.  (In her fantastic altered vision, her father had set out to find his fortune in the New World of America.)  She would never utter the words 'abandonment' or 'orphanage', but instead referred to being left with her 'aunts', while her sisters were left in a convent.  Happiness was a fleeting perception during this time in Gabrielle's life, suffering at such a young age the emotional turmoils that would age her beyond her years.  The symbolic traits within her designs - even the famed 'double C' logo - can potentially be traced to the inspirations within the seemingly coded artwork within the walls of the abbey and colourless stained glass windows (pictured).  A dark, looming presence of stone, steel and grey glass within the medieval village of Aubazine, it would have been difficult to conquer feelings of despair in this place.  Just think how much stronger of a woman this made her.

White howlite and black onyx chips dangle from glass tube beads on a silver-plated chain.  A strand of rosary-link black onyx chips hangs with it.  A repurposed black double-C earring as a off-centre focal, finished with a black satin ribbon.  Delicate enough to wear casually, bold enough to wear as a statement.  It's all secured round your neck with a lobster clasp with a 2-inch extender chain.

The Double C necklace.  The iconic symbol for the house of Chanel have many believe that the two Cs represent 'Coco'.  Reading this book, I've found the significance of these letters are much deeper in Chanel's life than expected.  The name 'Coco' derived from a brief stint as a stage singer in Paris cafes, only having two songs in her repertoire: 'Ko Ko Ri Ko' (the French refrain for a rooster, 'Cock a Doodle Doo') and 'Qui qu'a vu Coco?', a 'ditty' about a girl who's lost her dog.  Soon audiences were greeting her with barnyard calls and referring to her as 'Coco', the name of the song's lost dog.  "Thus Gabrielle became Coco, a metamorphosis that might have been humiliating rather than liberating, but nevertheless led to the birth of a legend."

However, here's where the mystery continues to the significance of this symbol.  Chanel met Arthur 'Boy' Capel whilst living with her lover, Etienne Balsan in his opulent home, Chateau de Royallieu.  Here began a complicated triangular relationship between two men who shared "an enthusiasm for fast horses and pretty women" and "the girl who was mistress to no one."  Chanel's attraction and passion for Capel was complicated, developing over a lengthly period of time before their love was consummated and became inseparable for over a decade, even while he had started a family with another woman.  His involvement in Chanel's fashion empire traces to the roots, providing funds for the property on Rue Cambon, which still stands today as a shrine to Chanel's work.  His sudden death in a car wreck outside of Paris devastated Chanel, although he had provided for her by including her in his will, leaving her forty thousand francs, which she invested furthur into the business he helped build with Chanel.  She had immortalized his memory within the iconic logo that is still recognizable today.

Synthetic pink rectangle beads in random shapes dangle from black glass tube beads from a thick silver-plated chain.  A vintage button-like Chanel charm dangles near the hoop clasp.

The Pink Suit bracelet.  One of the first American ambassadors for Chanel was Jackie Kennedy, wife of then-Senator John F. Kennedy, appearing on the cover of Life magazine in pearls and a pastel pink dress.  The media and public were enamoured by her charm, and the subject of Jackie's fashion choices became a hot topic during the presidential elections.  Rumours of outlandish amounts of money being spent on European couture - with names including Chanel, Dior, Balmain, Ricci and Lanvin, amongst others - was a sensitive issue, with warning from political allies that Jackie should buy American garments to appease the public and fellow partisans, as to not seem "extravagant".  Although she publicly committed to the purchase and appearance in American fashions, she secretly continued to purchase and wear her favourite European garments, modeling an ivory satin evening gown by Givenchy and charming French diplomats (headlines declared 'Versailles finally has a queen' upon reports of her visit) when accompanying her husband to a dinner at the Palace of Versailles (a tradition for the First Lady to choose a designer of the host country for her formal attire).

Jackie had found a 'moral loophole' in continuing to include Chanel fashions in her wardrobe through some clever 'circumnavigation'; fabrics and supplies were shipped directly from Chanel to a dressmaking establishment in New York called Chez Ninon, providing handsewn fashions from Chanel's latest collections.  (Chanel had a 'line for line' system when it came to the authenticity of the garments, as supposed to providing literal cutting and sewing patterns.)  "Mrs. Kennedy did not save money by doing so - the prices at Chez Ninon were on par with those at Chanel, with a suit starting at $850, and evening gowns running into the thousands - but she did save face, as an implicitly patriotic patron of an American dressmaker."

Thus, she came to wear the famed pink suit during her husband's ill-fated visit to Dallas, Texas (pictured above), where he was assassinated when riding in an open-roof limousine, with Jackie at his side in the car.  Her appearance when Lyndon Johnson was taking his oath into office was dramatic, as written by Mrs. Johnson in her diary: "Mrs. Kennedy's dress was stained in blood.  One leg was almost entirely covered with it and her right glove was caked, it was caked with blood - her husband's blood.  Somehow that was one of the most poignant sights - that immaculate woman, exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood.  I asked her if I couldn't get someone to help her change and she said, 'Oh, no ...'  And then with almost an element of fierceness ... she said, 'I want them to see what they have done to Jack.'"  She had changed out of the early the next morning, not before attending to her husband's casket when it arrived in Washington.  Her maid had placed the bloodstained suit in a box and marked 'November 22nd 1963' on the top, which eventually made its way to Jackie's mother's attic.  The suit is now safely stored, away from public viewing in the National Archives, and has never been cleaned.

"In retrospect, Mrs. Kennedy's Americanized Chanel was never entirely uncomplicated, from the moment of its creation, even without the president's blood on it."  With the swirling rumours and tabloid fodder of her husband's infidelities and affair with Marilyn Monroe made public, the sterling image of "Camelot" had begun to tarnish, and the bloodstained Chanel served as a symbol of the end of innocence in that era.  No sooner did the media paint Jackie Kennedy, grieving widow, clad in black did they replace them with images of Jackie O, "in a short white wedding dress with her billionaire second husband."  She continued to buy the European couture she always admired, frequently dispatching her Greek husband's private jets to Paris to purchase bottles of Chanel No. 5 from the boutique on Rue Cambon.  Her status as a fashion icon and association to Chanel - whether tragic, extravagant or elegant - is a timeless reminder of the power of clothing and image.

I'm excited to finish the book and read more about Chanel's life.  I just may have another jewelry piece/book report in me!  Grab a button to show your appreciation for Chanel!

Design by Cassandra

Design by Cassandra

All quotes sourced from "Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life" by Justine Picardie, HarperCollins Publishers.

1 comment:

hello gorgeous said...

oooo, how lucky and how gorgeous!!

I asked Santa to leave a copy under the christmas tree for me, but I guess he forgot!

I LOVE the pieces you have created, so chic! ;o)

Have a great sunday sweetie!


hello gorgeous xxx

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