Rooms come alive with the story of Gabrielle, as her devout readers find themselves in a story set in a Saatchi Gallery-esque Chanel flagship store, trying to glide as effortlessly as Coco would’ve done through the impeccable white walls with black piping and wood and marble floors. Her story features gardens, inside and outside of the gallery, designed by Chelsea Flower Show favourites Harry and David Rich, the story of the No 5, a film made featuring Karl Lagerfeld and walls lined with iconic muses. The story comes alive with an app designed to show her readers snippets of what the haute couture house and Mademoiselle is really like behind the scenes.
The crowning jewel would be the short film, Visite Nocturne, directed by Karl Lagerfeld—to some, the Coco reincarnate of his generation. In a sleek, lacquered office reminiscent of Miranda Priestley’s in The Devil Wears Prada, Gabrielle Chanel’s ghost, played by Geraldine Chaplin, comes alive and chastises Karl for his leadership style and the direction he took with Chanel. In a witty exchange of dialogue, which features a rare, chatty side of Lagerfeld, we see the evolution of what the fashion house once was, and the future that the industry sees for it. In a heated argument, it’s explained that the creative minds behind Chanel are always aware of the heritage and modernity that are implicit with every season and design that the fashion house creates, and its Lagerfeld and his team that has to bridge the two with every collection.
Despite admission being free, guests who signed up were able to experience the parfum making process, and workshops that focused on fabric and clothing details. However, this didn’t mean those who didn’t could not be a part of the delicate fabric and fragrance experiences. Entire rooms devoted to the colour red, fabrics hung from the ceiling with various textures, and an LED light show featuring colourful pots of fragrances were still part of the cumulative experience.
However, aside from the giant fabric swathes, selections of Chanel’s life and the bijoux de Diamants collection, it still feels as though the show wasn’t quite certain of what it wanted to achieve. True revellers in her artwork may feel alienated from the strong, confident and powerful Mademoiselle that was so instrumental in changing the perception of women’s fashion and women in fashion. It had informative, stylish rooms devoted to aspects of her classic designs—everything from her first diamond project to dresses and jewellery some of the most iconic in-house ambassadors wore—but only scratched the surface on an influential woman who’s quotes and quilts we still consider staples today. There was little explanation of what the pieces meant, which reduced the exhibition to a basic appreciation of who she was and an incredible amount of iPhone flashes. But where there is Keira Knightley on a wall, a story of interlocking Cs, and pictures of Gabrielle in tweed and pearls, an exhibition will still never cease to wonder fans of fashion, culture and history alike.