Chanel Fashion, News & Trends

La Chanelphile

January 11, 2012

Chanel Paris-Bombay Inspiration: Bombay, The Maharajas Palace, Lady Curzon, Jewels and The Bombay Express

One of my favorite parts of writing this blog is researching the inspiration for each of the collections. Karl Lagerfeld is an intelligent, well-read man and together with his access to the Chanel archives, it’s guaranteed that all Chanel collections designed by him have a back story. As noted before, Karl picked up on the fact that Chanel had designed some pieces in the 60s that were inspired by India. Let’s look a little deeper at aspects of the collection – and where their inspirations lie.

Bombay v. Mumbai

chanel paris bombay not mumbai
Bombay was renamed in the 90s to Mumbai – as part of a wave of city re-naming that started when India gained its independence at the end of the British Imperial period. However, naming the collection Paris-Bombay rather than Paris-Mumbai was entirely intentional. Rather than conjuring up images of Bollywood, Karl Lagerfeld was using a different time period all together for his collection. A time when Maharajas ruled in opulent palaces and where a bit of British influence held sway.

The Maharajas Palace
palace maharaja of indore chanel
One of Karl Lagerfeld’s references for the Chanel Paris-Bombay collection is the Manik Bagh Palace/Jewel Gardens designed by Eckart Muthesius in 1930 for the Maharaja of Indore. The palace is the epitome of two styles coming together – Muthesius’ modernist building and furniture (including pieces by Le Corbusier) mixed with traditional Indian pieces, in the tropical climate of India – a true example of East meets West. (Source)

Lady Curzon, Vice-Queen of India

chanel paris bombay lady curzon

Painting on Right: William Logsdail, “Mary Victoria Leiter, Marchioness Curzon in her Peacock Gown” (1909), photography by John Hammond © Bridgeman Art Library, Paris 2011

Who better to inspire a Chanel collection than one of the best-dressed women of her time?  Lady Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India.  Lady Curzon was said to have exquisite taste and caused a stir with her elaborate peacock-inspired gown pictured (and painted) above.  She promoted the skill and craftsmanship of Indian artisans, incorporated Indian fabrics in her clothing and made their use popular in other parts of India, as well as Europe.  She even assisted weavers and embroiderers in developing patterns that were better suited to current fashion styles and trends.  (Source)

chanel paris bombay lady curzon

Traditional Indian Jewels
chanel paris bombay traditional indian jewelry

India’s history of jewelry making is long and rich – one of the longest dating back thousands of years.  “Mughal reign was the most significant period of time in relation to jewellery. A lot of jewellery prospered from sixteenth to the nineteenth century.”   Gold and silver are considered sacred metals in India culture – gold representing the warmth of the sun and silver evoking the coolness of the moon.  Indian royalty including Maharajas had an important relationship to jewelry and because of their position they had much jewelry and were able to wear it in places that others were not allowed (ie, the feet). (Source)

The Chanel show paid homage to this jewelry tradition with a gorgeous collection of costume jewelry – all directly inspired by traditional Indian jewelry. The tikkas (forehead jewelry), bracelets, bib necklaces, cascading necklaces and chains connecting two items of jewelry together (ear to forehead, wrist to hand) are all emblematic of traditional Indian jewelry and Karl Lagerfeld gave these pieces a Chanel twist.

India’s Rail Lines

bombay express train chanel

Top: Painting of original Bombay Express train

India’s first rail line was built in the mid-nineteenth century and since then travel by train has been a mainstay of Indian culture. India’s rail lines even inspired literature as was the case with Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. This detail of Indian history was evident by the silver train circling the main table at the Chanel Paris-Bombay show.


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