Thursday, 4 September 2014

Culture Chanel - The Sense of Places ... A Unique Retrospective

Culture is part and parcel of human civilisation. It is a constitution of different constituents such as beliefs, customs and arts. 

Every race and tribe in this world is unique due to the distinctive culture. Furthermore, no two cultures are alike and hand gestures would be the easiest example as the interpretation may differ from one culture to another.

Today, culture is no longer restricted to tribes and races but also to iconic individuals who shaped the world, influencing its dwellers through their unique point of view. 

So unique that it subsequently being embraced, adapted and assimilated as part of the existing cultures. 

Fashion, being a cultural tool in its own right, is a sphere that is imbued with many icons, revered for their ability to nurture their influence into sub-culture. One of them is the revered fashion ingénue of the 20th century, the late Mademoiselle Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

Born in 1883, Gabrielle Chanel’s path to global fame and stardom was indeed, a truly perilous journey. Nevertheless, it was through that peril-filled journey a unique culture was subsequently nurtured, starting with what was initially conceived as a movement to liberate women from the restrictive conformation of post-Victorian dressing that was made of corsets and crinolines. 

Just like her birth star Leo, she courageously – not to mention single-handedly – went against the odds by dressing in self-designed and tailored pieces that were inspired by menswear.

Though the public, especially the high echelons of the French society back in the pre-World War II days must be gasping in horror and disbelief, Chanel soldiered on. 

She married her outstanding ideas of fashion, mainly inspired by the wardrobes of her many lovers such as Boy Capel and Duke of Westminster with materials that once were limited to only menswear, such as the Scottish tweed that has since become synonymous with her eponymous fashion house. 

The gamble paid off handsomely and a new cultural revolution was born; women wearing suits and pants officially became an accepted norm.   

Lovers’ wardrobe aside, Chanel, during her lifetime, was very much inspired by a host of places. These places, namely Saumur, Brive, Aubazine, Moulins, Royallieu, Paris, Deauville, Venice, Biarritz, Roquebrune, Eaton Hall, Hollywood and New York, were dear to her. 

Oftentimes, these places serve as the locales to the exquisite stories of her fabulous life – a fundamental element to the colourful and luxurious universe of Chanel. In the later years, a few of her legendary fragrances, especially from the Les Exclusif collection, are named after these places.

Yet, of all the places that hold high significance in her life, it was the 31 Rue Cambon where the real spirit of Chanel lives – an apartment just above her atelier and her iconic boutique. 

In this apartment, where she would conceive her designs or entertain a bevy of dignitaries and luminaries including the late Hollywood silver screen siren Elizabeth Taylor, the multitude of crystals, animal figurines, Coromandel panels and furnishing provide inspiration to many of her product designs, notably the bottle of her best-selling fragrance Chanel No.5.
   
Recently, the city of Seoul played host to the latest installation of Culture Chanel – The Sense of Places. Held at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the exhibition approaches Chanel’s creative language through locations that greatly inspired the works of the fashion visionary.

Conceived and curated by Jean-Louis Froment, Culture Chanel – The Sense of Places exhibition is composed of 10 sequences with each sequence highlights the real or imaginary journey of Coco Chanel and the interactions they sparked within her mind as a contemporary visionary and artist whose artistry is inevitable and highly revered during the 20th century.

More than 500 pieces including photographs, books, objects, manuscripts, archives and artworks along with fashion, jewellery, watch and perfume creations retrace the life story of this key figure that left an enduring mark on her time.

For instance, Chanel’s peasant origin is presented in form of artworks depicting peasantry such as copies of old testament with ears of wheat in gold on the spine of the books and a photograph of model Behati Prinsloo dressed in a Chanel swimming suit, holding a parasol and made her way through a field of ripening wheat. Renowned fashion photographer Camilla Akrans shot the image in 2007.   

There are also a series of old photographs of Chanel taken at different phases of her life. In a way, the entire exhibition represents a unique retrospective of Chanel’s life through diverse artistic medium.    

Prior to Seoul, the exhibition has been held successively in Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum for Fine Arts in 2007, in Shanghai at the Museum of Contemporary Art and in Beijing at the National Art Museum of China in 2011, and more recently in 2013 at the Opera House in Guangzhou and at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

To commemorate the opening of the exhibition, more than 700 guests were invited and flown into the city on August 29 for the opening ceremony. 

Within the futuristic expanse of the museum, which was designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, present at the opening event were Kook Hyun CHUNG, Director general of DDP, Jean-Louis Froment, Curator of the Culture Chanel exhibition, Claus Oldager, Chanel President of Asia Pacific and Robert Stavrides, President of Chanel Korea.

The chic spirit of Chanel could be felt immediately as most of the guests turned up in their best Chanel pieces, be it the iconic accessories or the latest ready-to-wear pieces, notably from the current Paris-Dallas metiers d’art collection. 

Amidst lush refreshments and gaiety, guests mingled with the likes of Chanel’s ambassadress Anna Mouglalis, friend of the house Caroline de Maigret, Japanese actress Kiko Mizuhara, Korean-American model Soo Joo, Korean artistes Hyungkoo Kang, Jeong Hwa Choi, Bohnchang Koo, Korean actor Woo-sung Jung, Korean actresses Ryeo-won Jung, Hee-ae Kim, A Sung Ko, Yeon-hee Lee, Yo-won Lee, Korean K-pop singers CL, Siwon Choi and G-Dragon.

The Culture Chanel – The Sense of Places exhibition is held from August 30 to October 5, 2014 at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

*Photos courtesy of Chanel

Dongdaemun Design Plaza - 281, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea (100-197)

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