Τhe elements that most often spring to mind when evoking the Chanel look are black and white, the timeless elegance of a little black dress and the elegant trim on a smart dress-suit jacket. And while Gabrielle is generally associated with her strong taste for rigorously pared-down aesthetics, one should never forget that she loved both simplicity and baroque styling in equal measure. In 1920s Paris, where many Russian exiles had sought refuge after the 1917 revolution, her fashion was nurtured by shapes and motifs inspired by this country. “I was fascinated by Russians,” she would later confide to the writer Paul Morand. A fascination celebrated this year with the jewelry collection titled “Le Paris Russe de Chanel”.
While Gabrielle Chanel never visited Russia, a ‘fantasized’ vision of this land found its place in her style vocabulary through her encounters. In 1921, the year of the launch of the N°5 perfume created by Ernest Beaux who was perfumer at the court of the tsars, her fashion already featured Slavic accents. The friendship she had established with Misia Sert a few years earlier fostered the first hints of the phenomenon, while her passionate love affair with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, infused it with revived intensity. Amid the cultural effervescence of Paris that had become home to fallen princes, she rubbed shoulders with Stravinsky, Diaghilev as well as Russian Ballet dancers Léonide Massine, Serge Lifar and Boris Kochno. Her private secretary was none other than Prince Koutoussoff, while her models and sales assistants belonged to the Russian aristocracy. As for the Kitmir atelier where her splendid embroideries were crafted, it was run by the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, sister of her former lover.
Fur-linked cloaks, colorful tunics, richly embroidered smocks, large belted blouses modeled after the Russian roubachka… These multiple variations on the Russian theme have now inspired the 63 creations composing the high jewelry collection Le Paris Russe de Chanel. Folklore prints are found in brightly colored scalloped ornaments, diamond arabesque-hemmed motifs reminiscent of fine embroidery and vaulted ogive cuts inspired by the kokoshnik (a type of velvet headdress adorned with pearls and trimming). Not to mention the symbolic figure of the two-headed eagle echoing a mirror in Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment on Rue Cambon. Reminiscent of an imaginary Russia, like an exhilarating and precious reverie.