During my recent trip to London, I visited The Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea to attend the Chanel Mademoiselle Privé exhibition.
Source: Saatchi Gallery
The Saatchi Gallery was opened by Charles Saatchi in 1985 to exhibit contemporary art to the public. It occupied several different premises before moving to its current location in 2008. Now housed in The Duke of York's HQ, a listed building, the Gallery is made up of 12 huge rooms set over three floors.
It’s an ideal location, set in its own little oasis just off the Kings Road, next to Sloane Square. Inside the Gallery is minimalist with glass stairwells and expansive white walls throughout. It’s said to be one of the most beautiful art spaces in London, the perfect setting to showcase one of the most iconic brands of today.
The exhibition was named Mademoiselle Privé after the sign that Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel frequently placed on the door of her atelier so that she could work undisturbed. Capturing her spirit perfectly, each room of the Saatchi Gallery was transformed to take visitors on a journey through the rich history of the House of Chanel, including Haute Couture, the "Bijoux de Diamants" jewellery collection and the iconic CHANEL N°5 perfume.
A few days before we visited, the Gallery hosted a private party to celebrate the launch of the exhibition. It was a star-studded affair with actresses Julianne Moore and Clémence Poésy in attendance as well as models Cara Delevingne and Laura Bailey. Long-term muse Vanessa Paradis and the new generation of Chanel ladies, including Lily-Rose Depp and Lily Collins, also turned out to support Karl Lagerfeld at the opening.
Upon entering the Gallery we were immediately greeted with a reconstruction of the fabulous mirrored staircase in Chanel’s Rue Cambon store in Paris. It is on this Parisian staircase that Coco would sit, hidden, to observe the reactions of the audience to her collections.
We were then taken room by room through the key moments in Coco's life including the opening of her Deauville hat shop and photographs of the summers she spent in Scotland which inspired her love of tweed. The colour red (worn on the lips, it became Gabrielle’s signature colour), camellias (Coco’s favourite flower, apparently after one was given to her by her lover) and wheat (her lucky charm, symbolising prosperity and creativity) were common themes throughout.
A large room representing Chanel No 5 had a futuristic feel with gold-lidded wells containing each of the perfume’s individual ingredients such as jasmine and May rose, leaving the vast room filled with the individual scents that still make up the perfume today, nearly 100 years after it was first released.
There were photographs taken by Karl Lagerfeld of actresses Julianne Moore, Keira Knightly and Lily Collins all wearing the designer’s one-off creations and diamond jewels from Bijoux de Diamants. Only a few pieces remain from the original collection today. It was supposed to have been displayed from the first time in London in 1932 but was stopped due to stringent British customs regulations. This exhibition finally saw it unveiled after 83 years with the entire collection recreated especially.
Items worn at the Chanel couture show last July were displayed, protected by infrared laser alarms that activate if a visitor got too close (speaking from experience). All the pieces on show were made in the Chanel workshop above the Place Vendôme store in Paris.
Big on sensory experience, another room was filled with huge drapes of different fabrics from the Chanel atelier, allowing visitors to touch and wander through real Chanel couture fabrics including delicate silks and the famous bouclé tweeds.
A short film directed by Lagerfeld was also featured showing a feisty Coco, played by actress Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie Chaplin), waking on the sofa of her Parisian apartment. After forty years of sleeping she confronts Lagerfeld about how he has continued her legacy. “What do you think you are doing?” she demands, “I am keeping you alive” he replies.
For a brand that still has not wholly embraced e-commerce, the exhibition was cleverly complemented by the Mademoiselle Privé app which visitors could download and use throughout to bring the show to life. Lifting a smartphone or iPad in front of the mirrored staircase, for example, would transport you to Paris for a virtual tour of Coco’s private apartment at number 31 Rue Cambon.
Unfortunately Mademoiselle Privé only ran for three weeks. This was the third such exhibition for Chanel at the Saatchi Gallery following the success of “The Little Black Jacket” in 2012 and Sam Taylor-Johnson’s photographs of Coco’s private apartment in 2014. Hopefully it won’t be the last.