Posts tagged Chanel

The famous paste cuffs Fulco di Verdura created for Coco Chanel.  She embraced costume jewellery and made it acceptable, fashionable and affordable.

It is hard to believe that nearly a century has passed since Coco Chanel opened her couture house in Paris.  Her fashion innovations were so far reaching that most modern women take them for granted.  She liberated them from their corsets, made short hair and suntans fashionable, put them into trousers, created the little black dress.  She was her own person and a shrewd businesswoman, raising herself from convent poverty to a life of great comfort.

Coco Chanel wearing her trademark pearls, Verdura cuffs and signature cigarette.

By designing and creating beautiful pieces of fine and high jewellery, Chanel in its present form is only carrying on a vein which Coco herself started in around 1924.  With the start of Paris Couture Week and the Chanel Centenary just round the corner it is only fitting that we look at this fashion icon’s contribution to jewellery.

With her use of tweeds and jerseys inspired by English life, she created a comfortable, elegant, quietly sumptuous look that her rival Paul Poiret was to call ‘Pauvre Luxe’, which literally means Luxury Poor.  This was her initial approach to jewellery design.  She was already the owner of wonderful pieces, many of them gifted to her by her lover the Duke of Westminster.  Initially, she had no desire to replicate precious jewels as her main desire was to accessorise, not flaunt wealth.  Taking a cue from Paul Poiret, she designed costume pieces which were an instant hit for their daring use of colour which worked beautifully against the dark minimalism of her clothes.  She liked to reference big, bold sources, such as Byzantium and military tassels and decorations, which resulted in jewelled bracelets, large coloured brooches and her signature long gold chains strung with coloured beads.  Defying convention (as usual), Chanel enjoyed mixing fake pieces with real ones and in what was to become her signature look she draped herself in oversized paste pearls, which she wore with the magnificent ones the Duke of Westminster had given her.

Her use of costume jewellery made it fashionable, acceptable and affordable and as the craze took off she met Fulco di Verdura.  He was an impoverished Italian duke with a gift for design.  Chanel originally hired him as a textile designer and recognising his talent, she asked him to create bespoke jewels for her using stones from jewellery given to her by previous lovers.  Impressed with the results, it was the start of a successful partnership.  They pioneered the use of baked enamel jewellery creating maltese crosses and huge, studded cuffs that were (and continue to be) copied the world over.  From this date Chanel was often photographed wearing the two cuffs Verdura designed for her to wear.  Incidentally, these pieces are incredibly valuable: Chanel’s own Verdura paste cuff recently sold at Christie’s for $100,000.

This jewellery creativity climaxed in 1932 when she produced her one and only high jewellery collection.  Again she defied convention by creating jewellery at a time when couture houses viewed this practice by one of their own in trepidation.   This time she abandoned Byzantium and the military for a galaxy of stars- Chanel wanted to ‘cover women in constellations’.  It was made purely in diamonds, and stars were a favourite of hers; she used the motif extensively and her bed in her South of France villa was wrought out of stars and crescents.  It was exhibited at the Grand Palais to great acclaim and stars have continued to be honoured in jewellery creations subsequent to Chanel’s death in 1971.  A fitting metaphor for one of fashion’s greatest figures. 

Two pieces of the high jewellery collection Coco Chanel designed in 1932.  She declared that she wanted to 'drape women in constellations'. 

The Celeste brooch by Chanel Fine Jewellery.  It pays tribute to Coco's love of stars and pearls.


Diamond and yellow sapphire Moisson d'Or earrings by Chanel

Paris couture week has just finished and the fashion world has had its fill of sumtptuousness for the moment- until they all reconvene after the summer.  It has become more interesting for jewellery designers and bloggers since the more important jewellery houses were allowed to exhibit their new High Jewellery Collections there.  And it seems that we have a glut of wheat!

The Place Vendôme in Paris, planted with wheat to celebrate the launch of Chanel's new collection, by the artist Gad Weil.

No less than three jewellery houses- Chanel, Chaumet and Boucheron- each unveiled three separate collections including the theme of wheat.  As these projects are guarded with sphinx-like secrecy, the similarities can only be coincidental.  Even so, I’m not sure I would want to be in any of the designers’ shoes right now as each collection was fanfared across the Place Vendôme to the gaze of collectors and commentators.  Chanel created enormous impact by planting the Place Vendome with golden wheat, an installation by artist Gad Weil.  Their Blé de Chanel Collection is a kaleidoscopic array of coloured stones, rendering the humble yet essential plant in a myriad of precious and semi precious stones; some of the pieces have retained that Coco-esque look of diamonds and pearls has stood the test of time.

Boucheron's Blé d’Étè diamond necklace.  Its asymmetric line is inspired by its heritage pieces.

Boucheron have looked yet again to their vast, marvellous archive; their Blé d’Étè wheat pieces are part of a set called Nature Triomphante and belong to the new 26 Vendôme High Jewellery Collection.  The asymmetric necklace is redolent of neckpieces from the 19th century and is a classic that will almost certainly never date.  They have also created two remarkable diamond set wristwatches in cream and black, also part of the Blé d’Étè line.

Chaumet’s offering is also part of a collection inspired by nature, but their interpretation is more mythological.  The wheat parure is one of four, the other three designed around the laurel, the oak and the lys, all plants which attributed certain powers to the ancient gods.  The collection is called (rather blandly) Les Natures de Chaumet.  But it is lovely to see how nature can be reinterpreted again and again and the laurel necklace in pink sapphires, which draws on the legend of Apollo and Daphne, is a joy to behold. 

The wheat and laurel tiara of the Tsarina Maria Fedorovna of Russia.  The original was dismantled and this replica, now on show at the Kremlin Armoury Museum, was made by the Soviets.

All three houses have strong links to the wheat sheaf; Coco Chanel was a fan of the motif and wheat aigrettes, tiaras and brooches feature heavily the Boucheron and Chaumet archives.  It was popular in the 19th century as a symbol of plenty (very apt for Couture Week).  Queen Elizabeth II often wears a very pretty pair of wheat sheaf brooches passed down from Queen Victoria and one of the most famous wheat jewels is the diadem of the Empress Marie Fedorovna of Russia.  The original was lost, but a near perfect replica was made by the Soviets (ironically) and is now on view at the Kremlin Armoury Museum

Detail of Chaumet's wheat sheaf necklace, part of their Natures de Chaumet High Jewellery collection.