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A La Coco

Fashion fades, only style remains the same.  - Coco Chanel

What had I done?

Back at the beginning of August, through some momentary aberration of grandiosity, I committed to take a space 36 x 60 feet large and create some approximation of Coco Chanel's famous apartment at 31 Rue Cambon for the 2014 Dallas International Art, Antiques, and Jewelry Show. 

I planned to use items from the various show dealers to complete the effect after I designed the concept and the show team fabricated the space, working with my own craftsmen to add the details. What the dealers don't provide I would supply with the help of some very generous Dallas showrooms and antiques dealers. 

This seemed a lot easier before I realized the show dealers were thinking one or two items each, when in fact there were many, many items needed to create the "Coco effect".

Olivier Meslay, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs, Senior Curator of European and American Art and the Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art for the Dallas Museum of Art would be lecturing at the show. 

A few years ago, Olivier and the DMA coordinated a trip for museum patrons to Paris, and it was then we learned of our mutual fascination with Chanel and her style, her time and her fashion. I would turn to him again for assistance with my research for this project.

But first, I began by reading many books and subjecting my patient husband to every movie and documentary about Mademoiselle Chanel.

Since I was already scheduled to be in London in September, with a few extra days between events, it seemed only right, essential even, to find a way to capitalize on the swiftness of the "Star" and zip over to Paris via the Chunnel. 

Chanel was in the air in London (perhaps due to Fashion Week). The Saatchi Gallery had a fantastic show by Sam Taylor-Johnson about the objects Chanel lived with and the ambiance of her famous apartment. This intriguing, artistic view of her possessions added a layer of mystery and gravitas to my research.

With the assistance of Olivier Meslay and Kevin Tucker, The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the DMA, Cole and I were able to secure an appointment with a representative of Chanel Heritage for a detailed tour of Mme. Chanel's apartement privé. 

So we set out on our adventure to experience Chez Chanel in person...

Denise Dubois of Chanel Heritage was our wonderful guide.

No photography can reveal the essence of those rooms. Having seen numerous detailed photographs and even various bloggers Cheshire-smiling faces as they were plopped right in the middle of Coco Chanel's grand suede sofa, the impact of the actual rooms is almost aesthetically jarring. When physically in the rooms, there is a personal quality, an intimacy and authenticity that suggests the interior life of a person who has become so famous she is almost a caricature, a line drawing of hat and suit with the ever-present cigarette.

When we were there some key items were missing, having been sent to the DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza) in Seoul, South Korea for a museum exhibit entitled "The Sense of Places" about Chanel.  In these rooms, I felt a sense of the public Mme. Chanel pushing against the private dreams of a very real person. There are quirky moments - a crumpled flower stuck in a bronze Buddha's hand, a fallen crystal protruding from a frog's mouth, and the Blackamoors Mademoiselle greeted "bonjour" and "adieu" each day. Her humor and wit, as well as her introspection and love of her life are seen everywhere.

This Buddha has a little metal flower whimsically inserted in its hand - an example of her splendid blend of whimsy and spiritual expression.

A hand sculpture created for her by Giacometti.

A frog with a mouth full of rock crystal.

Her personal talismans are everywhere: lions, interlocking C's, the number 5, wheat, large figures of spotted deer, and many cultures, many spirits and cultures elegantly mixed together, provoking thought, suggesting questions.

Lions guard every corner.

A bust purported to be a relative of Mademoiselle Chanel's most significant lover and benefactor, the Englishman, Boy Capel. Á la Coco...

Who was this woman?

What intellectual quests and sensuous life collected this ambiance of glamourous sophistication, worldliness, and unexpected harmony of disparate elements?

Armed with my research I would attempt to capture the spirit with which Mademoiselle Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel decorated her apartment and reinterpret it within the context of the Designer Showcase at the Dallas International Art, Antiques, and Jewelry Show.

"Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity."  - Coco Chanel



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