Quick! When you see the following items (or hear the following words): black and white, quilted bag, gold chains, ropes of pearls, camellia, little black dress, tweed suit, and cap toe pumps….what comes to mind? If it isn’t Chanel, there are perhaps only two viable explanations: 1- you are not living on the planet earth, or, 2- you are completely oblivious to the world of fashion (which seems impossible since you wouldn’t be reading this column if that were the case).
What’s more impressive is that one needn’t even put all the above elements together in order to have the same effect. The iconic symbolism of each one is strong enough to illicit the same knee jerk reaction and association. How many other designers and design houses can boast such a rich, lush history of identifiable symbols and recognizable icons? How many others can lay claim to such a fiercely loyal customer base AND have earned such unmitigated and unparalleled respect from other designers? (So much so that his or her designs are constantly being referenced season after season- year after year) Coco Chanel is alive and well and living….. well…everywhere, it seems. But for the next several months, her spirit (and that of Karl Lagerfeld,who is entrusted with carrying on the legend) are taking up residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a major exhibit is being housed, not in the traditional basement space, but in a sprawling gallery on the main floor. The resulting effect is far less like a traditional costume exhibit and feels more like walking through a spacious art gallery. And showing the clothing (Coco’s couture and ready to wear designs dated as far back as the 30’s- spiced up with Karl’s newer translations) is an effective way to heighten the understanding of Coco’s modern genius.
The continued popularity of, and loyalty to, the name and the brand, and the unstoppable influence of this fashion icon knows no bounds. So therefore, it is hardly surprising that there has been so much unprecedented publicity and hype surrounding the new Chanel exhibit (which opens to the public on May 5th and runs through August 7th) as well as last night’s gala, which has come to be known as ‘The party of the year’. Even yesterday morning’s press preview (scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1p.m), which has normally been a rather low keyed affair (particularly when one compares it to the evening’s festivities) was turned into a bona fide fashion ‘happening’. Drawing far more of an a-list fashion insider crowd than usual (Anna Wintour, Candy Pratts Price, Stephan Gan, Julie Gilhart), it included many fashion fixtures and fans who came dressed in obvious homage to the label (Chanel tweed suits and coats, Chanel scarves, Chanel logo shoes and belts, camellias, pearls, etc.) The event featured an unprecedented press conference which took place in the Great Hall- where chairs were set up just for the occasion- and the Curator of the Costume Institute, Harold Koda took the microphone, gave a bit of background information, explained that the most important thing everybody involved wanted to avoid was to turn this exhibit (which he called “a breakthrough for the museum”) into a retrospective. He then introduced Karl Lagerfeld, who spoke briefly and quickly, and unfortunately, due to the acoustics, and Karl’s trademark ‘manic’ delivery, I could not discern what he had to say.
By the way, just hours before, an entire segment of the ‘Today’ show was devoted to the legacy of the house of Chanel and the exhibit, and featured interviews with Harold Koda (who spoke about Coco’s connection to the little black dress, pearls, and her signature perfume- Chanel No.5); Andre Leon Talley (who observed that Coco did not need a publicist as she did all her own publicity); Michael Kors (who referred to Coco as “the first media star in fashion”, and said that she was “ way ahead of her time”; and Vera Wang, who called her “the most modern woman who ever lived…if she were alive today, she’d still be modern.”
In this past Sunday’s ‘Style’ section of The New York Times, (“A Peek Into Coco’s Closet”),Cathy Horyn posed the question, “What would Coco think?” Actually, I’m trying to visualize how she’d be dressed today, and what she would have worn to last night’s gala.