Chanel Mademoiselle Privé - Saatchi Gallery

Originally published 28th October, 2015

Just over a month ago, Chanel released a video wherein several of its most treasured campaign stars – such as Julienne Moore, Kristen Stewart and Vanessa Paradis – waxed lyrical on the sheer innovation of Gabrielle Chanel and, subsequently, Karl Lagerfeld, in establishing a French fashion house that has an essence which is as modern as it is classic. This was a fitting prelude to October 13th’s grand, public unveiling of Mademoiselle Privé, an ultra-sensory experience encompassing three floors of London’s Saatchi Gallery. The exhibition – which has been given a three-week residency (until 1st November) at its Duke of York Square location – was primed to give attendees an unrivalled insight into the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and her eponymous label’s groundbreaking inception, while also paying homage to the brand’s incredible evolution at the hands of Karl Lagerfeld, who took over as creative director twelve years after Chanel’s passing.

The high demand for attending such an event – particularly one of free admission – is incontestable. And when I got confirmation that my whirlwind trip to London a few days ago would coincide with the beginning of Mademoiselle Privé’s final showcase week, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to engage all five senses in celebrating a fashion label that has continually maintained a relevance with the ever-changing world that encircles it.

After downloading the app (which I will stress, repeatedly, throughout this piece as being the integral first step to the Mademoiselle Privé experience!) and discovering that the estimated waiting time at 11am on Sunday was 40 minutes, I swiftly decided to run the rest of the day’s errands before heading to Sloane Square in the evening when, surely, the queues would be minimal. Upon arriving at 5pm, however, I found a mass of people gathered around one side of the entrance. A security guard assured me that the wait wouldn’t surpass fifteen minutes – and this appeared to be the case when we were all suddenly led through the first gate into a maze of flora and aurally-simulated fauna (namely, the sound of chirping birds). Ultimately, the queuing lasted 45 minutes which – in hindsight – is not unexpected for a weekend day or night, but our pleasant outdoor surroundings (created by landscape designers Harry and David Rich) made the experience surprisingly durable; especially as we knew an inimitable show lay in store for us:

Guided down one dark, nearly futuristic pathway, I emerged to find a white room punctuated by black illustrations, as sketches of Gabrielle Chanel cascaded down stairways and sauntered across hat displays in time to a voiceover by Géraldine Chaplin (who you’ll hear more about later), who recounts how the label was first conceived and influenced, channeling Chanel’s original, irrelevant persona in the process – “One Day in Coco’s Life”. It was while passing through these initial rooms, where the walls were decorated with pivotal Chanel citations, that my Mademoiselle Privé app began to flash. Do not ignore this, like I almost did, thinking that checking it later will suffice – viewing the app while you explore each room gives you invaluable context to everything you’re witnessing, as well as building quite remarkably upon the existing exhibit. An example of the latter is when I walked through a seemingly barren room: within moments, the app conjured up images of Gabrielle Chanel’s immaculately-preserved Rue Cambon apartment.

After marvelling at an enlarged, caged necklace in the Diamond room – inspired by Chanel’s 1932 necklace creation of the same name – I entered the Totem room, wherein detailed explanations of each distinctive sculpture flashed across the app screen. This gave insight in a way that was so much more three-dimensional than a simple placard ever could be. Iconic symbols reinvented by Lagerfeld included The Camellia – Chanel’s favourite flower, given a starring role through a decadent rock crystal and pearl structure – and The Venetian Moor, an evocation of a 1935 photograph taken by Cecil Beaton of Chanel, who is clad in a floor-length, sequin-covered gown.

The ground floor’s sensory room was the most aptly named of all. Swatches of black and of white fabric synonymous with Chanel’s grandeur  – all bouclé tweeds and luxurious silks – descended from the ceiling, enveloping visitors as the sound of sewing machines and scissors cutting through cloth surrounded us. A huge, CC-embrazoned bucket was filled with chains, the contents spilling onto the floor – one could say that here, the recipe for a Chanel bag was fully provided for.

The last, utterly evocative room on the ground floor was simply entitled N°5 – an olfactory ode to what is arguably the most well-recognised perfume in the world. Key components within the fragrance – sandalwood, jasmine, lily of the valley – were presented in gold-bronze vats, which would periodically open to reveal layers of steam and unusual colours inside. There were still an entire two tiers left to explore, though I had already received a wealth of insight.

Mademoiselle Privé’s Haute Couture room was visually electrifying. Several spears of light acted as the ultimate mannequin to embellished, über-decadent pieces. Once more, the recurring theme of marrying classic concepts with throughly-modern innovations was displayed to prominent effect; and this union carried through to Bijoux De Diamants, what could well be considered the exhibition’s pièce de résistance!

Mademoiselle Privé’s Haute Couture room was visually electrifying. Several spears of light acted as the ultimate mannequin to embellished, über-decadent pieces. Once more, the recurring theme of marrying classic concepts with throughly-modern innovations was displayed to prominent effect; and this union carried through to Bijoux De Diamants, what could well be considered the exhibition’s pièce de résistance!

The result of a beautiful re-edition dreamt up by Lagerfeld, Bijoux De Diamants takes its name from Mademoiselle Chanel’s only high jewellery collection, created in 1932 (and includes the previously-mentioned Diamond necklace). Specially-crafted haute couture pieces – encompassing, among others, a rich emerald velvet gown and silver jacket suit – took centre-stage, while campaign images featuring the stars of Chanel’s prelude video lined the jet-black walls. One feature you cannot miss is the chance to view a short, Mademoiselle Privé film starring Lagerfeld and the aforementioned Géraldine Chaplin – the wait is no more than four minutes, and making chit-chat with the security guards invariably leads you to getting a front seat. Chaplin portrays Gabrielle Chanel who, upon waking up on the chaise of her untouched apartment, makes her way to the Chanel studios, lamenting the installation of a door that ‘resembles a fridge’ in lieu of her original, Mademoiselle Privé signage. As she encounters Lagerfeld and unabashedly rebukes his transformation of her brand, he remarks – quite accurately – that ‘[he] was keeping [her] alive’ by continuing to give Chanel the same originality and relevance (albeit adapted to modern times) it had when she first created it.

The final level consisted of ornately-designed workshop spaces: three individualistic rooms were set aside for Lesage Embroidery, Lemarié Feather and Flower Making, and a Chanel N°5 Olfactive Workshop. There is incredibly high demand to book a space in any of these sessions, especially given that, again, there is no fee enclosed. If you are determined to have an optimum Mademoiselle Privé experience, however, then refresh the app each morning and afternoon to be in with a chance of nabbing a prized spot. You will be surrounded by heavily-adorned, framed highlights from Chanel’s recent couture shows – including Métiers d’Art Paris-Salzburg 2014/15 – as you diligently work away.

There can be no question that Mademoiselle Privé gives attendees a unique, and truly modern, experience as one becomes so reliant on the app to elaborate on every coveted image, dress and piece of jewellery we observe. In many ways, this is the epitome of what Chanel stands for; embracing its rich heritage, but communicating it in a way that is entirely fresh and relevant to new generations. Our digitally-orientated world couldn’t help but thrive on a novel exhibition like this, where quotes and additional imagery light up our screens as we absorb our surroundings. Chanel’s vision, ultimately, is anything but rearward – and this will guarantee a lengthy survival at the top of the ranks, so long as the Gabrielles and Karls of this world have full control of its reins.

For Mademoiselle Privé’s final week, until 1st November, the Saatchi Gallery will open from 10am – 10pm each day excluding Sunday (10am – 8pm). Getting there around fifteen minutes before a weekday morning opening is ideal for minimum queuing time. The workshops will take place four times a day at 10.00am, 12.00pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm, and there will be an extra session every Wednesday at 6.30pm: up to two complimentary tickets will be available upon booking.

Amelia xx

La Femme Éclectique