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La Chanelphile

August 10, 2012

Flash Back Friday: Aubazine Abbey

aubazine abbey

After her mother’s death when she was eleven, Coco Chanel’s father dropped she and her two sisters off at the orphanage at the abbey at Aubazine in Corrèze, France. Chanel spent six years at the orphanage where leading a simple life where the future designer learned to sew. Much of Coco Chanel’s design lexicon is rooted in her time at the orphanage at Aubazine. From the double-C perhaps inspired by the design on the glass windows, the patterns she saw in the stone floors, the monastic color palette of black and white and the importance Chanel placed on fragrance, much of what we love about Coco Chanel’s brand and designs harken back to her sad days at Aubazine.

aubazine abbey

Since Coco Chanel spent many formative years there I thought it would be great to highlight it in a Flash Back Friday post and I hope one day to visit Aubazine Abbey myself. For a more in-depth look at the influence of Aubazine on Coco Chanel read Justin Picardie’s Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life.

aubazine abbey

aubazine abbey

Image Source

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Filed under: Chanel,Coco Chanel — Tags: , , — La Chanelphile @ 4:12 am

June 29, 2012

Flash Back Friday: The Legend of the Chanel Logo’s Double C

catherine de medici hair pin chanel

Catherine de Medici's Hairpin with Interlocking Cs found in 2012

Chanel’s iconic interlocking Cs logo is one of the most widely-recognized logos in the world. However, much like Coco Chanel’s life story, much of the origin of the interlocking Cs is shrouded in mystery. A few weeks ago a hairpin belonging to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the 16th century, was found at Fontainebleau Palace, a royal residence outside of Paris.  A momentous find, the hairpin was the first possession of the Renaissance queen found in modern history.  But what makes this find most curious of all is the very familiar looking interlocking Cs.

To fully understand the roots of the interlocking Cs we must take a look into the history of France as well as the formative years of Coco Chanel’s life.

queen claude of france catherine de medici coco chanel

The "C" Ladies: Queen Claude of France, Catherine de Medici and Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel

Queen Claude of France

Queen Claude of France is the first person recognized to use the interlocking Cs as her insignia.  The interlocking Cs are found at the Château Royal de Blois, where “the symbol was carved in white in the apartments of France’s Queen Claude, who found in the inital “C” an inspiring personal motto: candidior candidis – the fairest of the fair.”  (The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo, p.107)  We get a clearer picture of Queen Claude’s personal apartments  in Catherine de Medici, where the authors state: “the apartments of Queen Claude of France…in which may still be seen, delicately carved, the double C accompanied by figures, purely white, of swans and lilies signifying / candidior candidis / – more white than the whitest – the motto of the queen whose name began, like that of Catherine [de Medici] with a C…” (Catherine ‘de Medici, Honoré de Balzac and Katharine Prescott Wormeley, p.54)

 Catherine de Medici

Queen Claude of France was Catherine de Medici’s mother-in-law – Catherine de Medici joined the French royals upon her marriage to Claude’s second son Henri II.  Having an initial C, like Queen Claude before her, Catherine de Medici adopted the symbol as her own.

Royal insignia of the initials of Henri II and Catherine de Medici can be found at Chenonceau

Royal insignia of the initials of Henri II and Catherine de Medici can be found at Chenonceau. Photo from Historical-Fiction.com

It seems Catherine de Medici and Coco Chanel shared not only the “C” initial but also a penchant for jewels.  Queen Catherine loved lavish jewels but most of her collection was sold, lost or stolen over hundreds of years.  Similarly, Mademoiselle Chanel loved jewelry – both real and fake – and like Queen Catherine, many of her signature pieces were stolen in the hours shortly after her death.  To find a piece of Catherine de Medici’s jewelry now is a significant find, and may help unlock some of the mysteries of the Chanel logo.

As a side note, this is not the only similarity between Catherine de Medici and Coco Chanel – both women loved fragrance as well.  In fact, one of the many rumors surrounding the creation of Chanel Nº5 is that the formula is derived from “the lost ‘miraculous perfume’ of the Medici queens, an elixir said to preserve aging beauties from the ravages of time.”  (The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo, p.31)

Château Crémat

Stained Glass window at Chateau de Cremat Chanel Logo

Stained Glass window at Chateau de Cremat, Image from TwentyFourSevenInFrance.com

Another legend says that Coco Chanel saw the interlocking Cs at Château Crémat, a château in Nice that Irène Bretz, and American heiress purchased.  Coco Chanel was friends with Ms. Bretz and attended parties she hosted at Château Crémat and “one summer night Coco Chanel looked up at a vaulted arch at one of  Irène’s famous parties and found inspiration in a Renaissance medallion: two interlocking Cs.” (The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo, p.107)

Doorknob from Chateau de Cremat in Nice Chanel Logo

Doorknob from Chateau de Cremat in Nice, Image from DecadesInc.blogspot.com

Chapel at Aubazine

The explanation that Chanel (the modern company) and biographer Justine Picardie subscribe to is that the answer can be found at the Chapel of Aubazine, a Cistercian monastery and abbey that also housed an orphanage where Chanel spent the latter half of her childhood.

chapel aubazine stained glass window coco chanel

Windows from the chapel of Aubazine, Photo from Culture.Chanel.com

Picardie explains:

A few shafts of light pierce the shadows through the opaque grey and pearl-white windows; there is no figurative stained glass in this Cistercian abbey, but the panes form geometric patterns, knots and loops that look eerily like the double C of Chanel’s logo.

(Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, Justine Picardie, p. 28).

Capel & Chanel

Justine Picardie also alludes to another meaning behind the double C – Boy Capel and Coco Chanel.  Boy Capel was the love of Coco Chanel’s life and Chanel as we know it today may not even exist without Boy Capel.  In addition to being her lover, Boy Capel was in some ways a founding business partner of Chanel.  He funded her business and her first boutiques and Coco Chanel eventually paid him back his investment.

Coco Chanel and Boy Capel

Coco Chanel and Boy Capel, Image scanned from Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie, p.60

After Boy Capel’s untimely death, interlocking the Cs of Capel and Chanel was a way of keeping them together.  Picardie states:

There was no business contract to bind them together, just as there was no marriage certificate, but it nonetheless joined them, as the double C logo seems to suggest; Chanel and Capel; overlapping, but also facing away from each other.

(Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, Justine Picardie, p. 74-5).

The Double C Lives On

We will never know where Coco Chanel found inspiration for the Double C Chanel logo.  It could have been from long lost loves, royal families, her sad childhood, or a combination of them.   What we do know is that the symbol is as mysterious as the woman who made it infamous.

chanel logo

Sources:
Washington Post
Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life by Justine Picardie
The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo (review coming soon!)
Culture Chanel
http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/hautehouse_row/159608795.html
http://historical-fiction.com/?p=1629
http://decadesinc.blogspot.com/2010/10/nothing-better.html
http://twentyfourseveninfrance.com/tag/fashion/

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Filed under: Chanel,Chanel Culture,Coco Chanel — Tags: , , , — La Chanelphile @ 12:39 pm

January 24, 2012

Chanel Joaillerie Spring 2012

Chanel Joaillerie Spring 2012

Chanel Joaillerie Spring 2012 Open Necklace with Shooting Star Brooch

Chanel presented its Chanel Joaillerie Spring 2012 collection – the haute couture of fine jewelry.  What set this presentation apart was that it celebrates the 80th anniversary of Coco Chanel’s 1932 Bijoux de Diamants collection. In homage to Coco Chanel’s original 1932 collections, Chanel displayed nine celestial-inspired pieces – a preview of what we can expect to see at the July presentation that will honor the 80th anniversary.  Coco Chanel was intrigued by astrology so taking inspiration from the cosmos was a natural progression for her.  These pieces are literally “out of this world.”

Sources: WWD and Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie

Chanel Joaillerie Spring 2012

Chanel Joaillerie Spring 2012 3-D Celeste Brooch

Coco Chanel 1932 Bijoux de Diamants collection

Coco Chanel 1932 Bijoux de Diamants scanned from Justine Picardie's "Coco Chanel" p. 218

Coco Chanel 1932 Bijoux de Diamants collection

Coco Chanel 1932 Bijoux de Diamants collection scanned from Justine Picardie's "Coco Chanel" p. 221

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Filed under: Chanel,Chanel Jewelry — Tags: , , — La Chanelphile @ 2:04 pm

September 30, 2011

Book Review: Sleeping With the Enemy – Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan

When I heard the nasty rumors circulating online about Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War, a new book that unlocks the secrets of Coco Chanel’s WWII wartime activities I had to get my hands on a copy.  After all, Coco Chanel was my idol since childhood and I didn’t want to look up to a Nazi spy.  On the other hand, claiming someone was a Nazi spy is probably one of the worst things you could say about a person – and I wasn’t going to believe such an accusation without some proof.  You see, a long, long time ago (in a land far away), I was an attorney.  Though I no longer practice law, I don’t take accusations lightly and I firmly believe in “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”  That is the standard by which I deem things such as nasty Nazi spy rumors to be true or false.  After reading Hal Vaughan’s Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War, I am not convinced.

The first half of the book is background information on Chanel and the Paris she inhabited.  There is nothing about her behavior pre-WWII that would cast doubt on her character.  Yet, the tone in which Hal Vaughan writes his book is one of a scorned lover.  Or a woman hater. Or both.  The book reads like a witch hunt and he simply did not like her.  His distaste for Coco Chanel came across in everything he wrote from his description of her appearance to disparaging and sexist comments sprinkled throughout the book.  As I was reading the first half of the book I found myself thinking that if it is with the same analysis that he comes to the Nazi spy conclusions, then his arguments are simply not credible.  But I continued reading and waited to read something convincing.

The second half of the book is where Hal Vaughan lays out his evidence and presents his arguments claiming Coco Chanel was a Nazi spy.  His conclusions are based on archival documents about Chanel’s wartime activities.  Interestingly, Justine Picardie had access to the same documents and devotes two chapters to Chanel’s wartime activities in Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, and came to very different conclusions.  How could two people read the same documents and come to such different conclusions?

Hal Vaughan had an idea in his head and he skews the documents to fit his hypothesis, whereas Justine Picardie approached the documents with an analytical eye and also with great knowledge of Coco Chanel.  For example, one set of intelligence records claimed that Coco Chanel was married.  That was simply not true – and something that could easily be verified with state records.  If the intelligence could be wrong about something so easily verifiable, how could you believe anything else in the documents? At the very basis, the source material was not credible.  This is just one example, but there are many more inconsistencies that just don’t add up.  Whereas Hal Vaughan forces the pieces to fit, Justine Picardie lays them out before you and you conclude yourself that there is just no way they can fit together.

Even by giving Hal Vaughan the benefit of the doubt and accepting all of his arguments as true – then Chanel did two things: (1) she unsuccessfully tried to broker peace between Germany and England; and (2) she tried to gain control of her company using anti-Jewish laws.  Picardie addresess both of these issues – Vaughan is not bringing anything new to the table.  But these acts hardly make her a Nazi spy.  Calling someone a Nazi spy implies that she is working for the Nazis.  That simply was not the case.  Though trying to gain control of her company through the use of anti-Jewish laws was unsavory, it also did not make her a Nazi spy.

The final thing that I considered when deciding whose arguments were more convincing were the actual writers themselves.  Justine Picardie, a fashion writer, was the features director of British Vogue and has written for Harper’s BazaarHal Vaughan was a journalist whose writing has been more political in nature.  While Hal Vaughan’s knowledge of Coco Chanel was rudimentary, Justine Picardie literally walked where Coco Chanel walked visiting the convent where Chanel grew up and Chanel’s suite at the Ritz, among other places.  She even tried on Chanel’s very own clothing.  Picardie’s research was so deep that she delved into the very psyche of Coco Chanel.  She knew that Chanel’s greatest creation was her own persona and that you can’t take things at face value when studying Coco Chanel.  When comparing the two – there is in fact no comparison.  Hal Vaughan’s book simply reads as an opportunistic book written to create lots of nasty headlines and rumors online with nothing to back them up.  For that, he did succeed.  In convincing me that Coco Chanel was a Nazi spy, he did not.

If this is issue is important to you I urge you to read both books and come to your own conclusion.  Both books, Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War and Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life are available online and you can hear the authors themselves debate the issue on BBC radio.

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Filed under: Chanel,Coco Chanel — Tags: , , — La Chanelphile @ 4:46 am

September 22, 2011

Lunch with Coco Chanel Biographer Justine Picardie

Chanel Her Life Justine PicardieOn Tuesday, I had the honor of attending a Luncheon held in honor of Justine Picardie, the author of Chanel – Her Life.  Tucked away in the private upstairs room of La Grenouille, “the last great French restaurant in New York”, the intimate setting and amidst gorgeous floral displays, it was the perfect place to spend an afternoon celebrating the life of Coco Chanel.

I read Picardie’s first edition of Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life while on vacation this summer and it is by far my favorite Chanel biography.  In fact, Karl Lagerfeld himself loved the biography so much that he created illustrations and redesigned the layout of the book, including the font, for the second edition published by Lagerfeld’s long-time publisher Steidl.  I’m so glad I had already read the book because the new edition – Chanel – Her Life – is so beautiful I would hate to cause any wear-and-tear to the edition.  Having read the book only a month ago, much of it was fresh in my mind.  But, to hear the author herself discuss the experience brought a whole new level of understanding.

Amy Larocca and Justine Picardie

Growing Up With Chanel

Though Justine Picardie started the process of writing Chanel – Her Life in 1998, her fascination with Chanel started as a little girl.  Her mother kept Chanel N°5 on her dressing table and that was her mom’s signature scent.  Though Picardie couldn’t read yet, the typeface of the Chanel N°5 bottle was so distinctive, she knew that is contents were “precious” and the bottle was off-limits to Justine and her sister.  It seems Picardie’s mother was a Chanelphile herself and for her wedding she wore a little black dress – not a Chanel original but made from a Vogue Chanel pattern.  Continuing in the rebellious spirit of her mother, Justine Picardie wore her mother’s wedding dress during her punk phase to see The Clash and The Sex Pistols (so cool on so many levels!).

Gabrielle Chanel, Convent Life and Chanel Iconography

I’ve often read of Gabrielle Chanel’s mysterious childhood growing up in the convent at Aubazine – mysterious because of the many versions of her childhood that Chanel recounted often replacing nuns with “severe aunts in black.”  Justine Picardie is the only writer that was granted access to stay at the convent.  The process of gaining access was a long one, but when one of Picardie’s letters reached the abbey on the Saint Justine’s Saint’s Day, the nuns saw it as a sign and allowed Justine Picardie to stay at the convent on the condition that she follow their routine.  And so she woke at dawn, prayed, ate very little, prayed some more and sang.  Not only was she able to walk the same halls that young Gabrielle Chanel had, but she got to experience what Coco Chanel had experienced.

In many ways, growing up at Aubazine was probably the biggest influence on Coco Chanel’s designs.  From the stark black and white of the nuns’ habits, star patterns in the mosaic floor of Aubazine Abbey, iron crosses and patterns in the stained glass that are eerily similar to the interlocking C’s – all of this imagery plays a large part in modern Chanel iconography and provides the foundation for the house that Chanel built.  In fact, she sent the architect of La Pausa to the Aubazine Abbey to replicate the staircase for the foyer of La Pausa.

Coco Chanel’s Activities During WWII

We’ve all read the vicious rumors circulating online about Coco Chanel prompted by Hal Vaughan’s Sleeping With the Enemy (review coming shortly but you can hear Justine Picardie and Hal Vaughan debate the topic in the mean time).   Picardie would never speak ill of another writer’s work; she read the same sources that Hal Vaughan read and she came to very different conclusions.  For Ms. Picardie, the situation was a “much more complicated story.”

Time has not been kind to Coco Chanel and her wartime activities.  She closed her house because she thought that war was “no time for fashion.”  Though it was seen as patriotic to stay in business, the French designers that did continue throughout the war only ended up designing for the wives and mistresses of Nazi officers – not very patriotic.  Indeed, perhaps not selling to the Nazis was more patriotic, non?  For example, Cartier designed a piece for Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propoganda, but you don’t see people exploiting that fact – or calling Cartier a Nazi.  Picasso sold paintings to Nazi’s and even had some Nazi’s visit his studio.  In fact, any French person who was not part of the resistance in some way or another had contact with Germans.  Whether you were a barber, baker or banker – if you were in occupied France you had to work with Germans.

It’s sad, but Coco Chanel may be the victim of sexism – a “convenient scapegoat”.  She was a strong, financially independent business woman – something very rare back then (and still scary to some today).  Her relationship with a half-English half-German low-level spy was complicated – as were all of her relationships with men.  The lowest act she committed was trying to get control of Chanel Fragrances – a company whose name she shared but only shared in 10% of its profits – through the use of anti-Jewish laws.  Not respectable at all, though there is much more to the story (read the book for information on all wartime activities).

The 1954 Comeback

Coco Chanel re-opened her house in 1954 to awful French review – the kind that would make anyone else quit.  That Coco Chanel continued is a “measure of her strength”.  Her reason for returning to Fashion?  Dior.  In 1947 he popularized the “New Look” and managed to bring back corsets, virtually un-doing Chanel’s life’s work.  She had done so much to liberate women and she wanted to free them from the tyranny of the corset one more time.  (It appears the rivalry between Dior and Chanel is not a new one).

The Luncheon

The afternoon started with champagne and hors d’oeuvres followed by a sumptuous meal – the kind that I could see Coco Chanel herself enjoying amidst the company of her artist friends.  As we dined, Justine Picardie recounted stories of her stay at The Ritz in the suite that Coco Chanel died in (not the pre-WWII Coco Chanel Suite).  It seems Mlle. Chanel may have paid Ms. Picardie a visit the night of her stay.  Over a hushed table, Justine Picardie told us how after turning in for the night and shutting the lights one of the bulbs shot out of the wall sconce, lights flickered and lights turned on without her help. The luncheon ended with Ms. Picardie signing my copy of Chanel – Her Life and I received a box of Chanel N°19 Poudré compliments of Chanel.

Coco Chanel – Living in Black and White

If I took away one thing from reading Chanel – Her Life and hearing Justine Picardie speak – it would be that Coco Chanel is shrouded in mystery because she was a woman of contrasts.  From the diametrically opposed staircases in her life – the dark, austere Aubazine Abbey to the glimmering, mirrored staircase at 31 Rue Cambon, to her at-once loving yet litigious relationship with her business partner of sorts Pierre Wertheimer, Chanel was a complicated woman.  She hid the darkest parts of her past like the shame of growing up in poverty and from that she created light – beautiful creations that look as modern now as they did seventy-years ago.  And from the mystery of her life, the contrast of darkness and light, the simplicity of the signature black and white Chanel branding make all the sense in the world.

Chanel – Her Life is available now in bookstores and online.

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September 18, 2011

Biographers Debate Coco Chanel’s Nazi Ties

I read Sleeping With the Enemy a few weeks ago but I didn’t have a chance to write my review before I left for New York for Fashion Week. I’ve waited on writing the review because my notes are in the book (which I left at home) but I will say that Hal Vaughan did not convince me that Coco Chanel was a Nazi spy. While I will wait on going into details on why I’m not convinced until I have my notes with me, I found a really interesting interview on BBC radio where Hal Vaughn and another Chanel biographer, Justine Picardie, debate Chanel’s involvement with the Nazi’s. Having read both books, I agree with Justine Picardie’s point of view. Have you read the books? What do you think?

You can hear the interview with Hal Vaughn and Justine Picardie on the BBC website.

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Filed under: Chanel,Coco Chanel — Tags: , , , — La Chanelphile @ 8:30 pm

August 11, 2011

More Karl Lagerfeld Sketches of Coco Chanel

karl lagerfeld illustrations of coco chanel
Back in March we saw a sneak peek of illustrations Karl Lagerfeld did for a re-issue of Justine Picardie’s Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life.  I came across some more illustrations and I thought I would share.  I never get tired of seeing Karl Lagerfeld’s illustrations…

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

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Filed under: Chanel,Coco Chanel,Karl Lagerfeld — Tags: , , , — La Chanelphile @ 5:33 am

March 17, 2011

Karl Lagerfeld Sketches Coco Chanel

Last year, Justine Picardie released Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life.  Karl Lagerfeld enjoyed the bio so much that it inspired him to sketch Coco Chanel for a new edition that will be published by Steidl.  Picardie and Lagerfeld will host a cocktail reception for the 2nd edition at Galignani, one of Lagerfeld’s favorite bookstores in Paris.  A German version releases in April and the English version will release in June.

Source: WWD

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December 7, 2010

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie


I read every book I can get my hands on about Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel – well at least the ones in English. When I heard a while back that there was a new biography in the works, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie, I couldn’t wait to learn more about the mysteries surrounding one of the most influential women of the 20th Century.

Justine Picardie spent years researching and writing this biography on Mademoiselle Chanel.  From notes in the Chanel and Churchill archives, to interviews with Chanel’s last surviving friends, Picardie paints a picture that brings the true Coco to light in a way never seen before.

From her humble beginnings in an Orphanage, to her romance with the Duke of Westminster, Picardie delves deep into the mysteries behind the infamous designer.  She also investigates Chanel’s controversial romance during WWII and digs deep into top-secret intelligence and military archives.  Studying the iconography of the brand, Picardie also recounts how key events in Chanel’s life infuenced her collections and designs.

Thoroughly researched, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life is an excellent read on Coco Chanel’s life.  Not just a great biography, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life is full of accompanying photographs – some of which I have never seen before.  One of my favorite parts of the book are the embossed illustrations of Coco Chanel on the front and back covers done Karl Lagerfeld himself.

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life is available for sale on Amazon.com and makes a wonderful gift for any Chanelphile.  It’s definitely now one of my favorites among my collection of Chanel books.

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September 13, 2010

Chanel Links: Week of 09.13.10

  • Coco, the musical about Coco Chanel’s life (that starred Katherine Hepburn) made a brief comeback this weekend in a bare-bones production at the New York Theather Company.
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