Chanel @ Saatchi

Coco Chanel’s spirit has been brought to and taken over the Saatchi Gallery. Her essence has found a home in every crevice of the building taking over the whole of the three-story establishment and has even spilled outside of the gallery, in the form of specially built garden.

The Chanel experience begins before the visitor even walks through the door. The path leading to the gallery entrance has been adorned with vegetation designed by the Rich Brothers, who were awarded gold medals at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Not only did they create the exterior ‘English Garden’, but the ‘jardin a la francaise’ that has been placed inside the gallery. The interior garden is the one with the most impact, with criss-cross patches of greenery climbing over the walls. Due to the unlikely nature of having outdoor plants inside, the plant smell wafts around the gallery, giving the feeling of being outside, without having to deal with the chill of autumn in London.

Once you have walked through the outside garden, the visitor enters the exhibition via a recreation of Chanel’s salon. This consists of a large mirrored room containing a staircase where the designer would sit and watch the reactions of her audiences at her fashion shows without being seen. The viewer then proceeds to move into the designer’s Deauville hat shop and through dimly lit rooms that showcase aspects of design that are synonymous with the Chanel brand. These include buckets filled with leather and metal bag straps and breton stripes. Before entering the exhibition, you are encouraged to download an interactive app, which is said to help ‘bring the exhibition to life.’ While I did not do this, as I prefer to view these shows with my eyes and not through my iPhone screen, on this occasion, it seems like it may have added to this experience.

When walking through the passages that link the different sections of the show together, the viewer cannot help but notice that the white walls have been edged with a black trim that mirror the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle. In fact, there is a part of the show that has been dedicated to the much-loved scent in the form of gold vessels containing the individual ingredients, providing an extra-sensory level to the exhibition, which has become quite fashionable in art shows as of late.

The most talked about part of the show however is the room filled with diamonds designed by Chanel in 1932 that are on display at Saatchi for the first time. These are presented in a dimly lit room to allow the jewels to sparkle in their entire splendor. This jewelry is accompanied taken portraits by Karl Lagerfeld of 17 celebrities that include Lily-Rose Depp and Julianne Moore. Not only are these images significant in the way they are photographed by Chanel’s incumbent creative director of Chanel, but also because they were taken in Gabrielle Chanel’s Paris apartment.

My personal favourite part of the exhibition however was the display of a series of fruit machines that had been given the ‘Chanel treatment’; this comes in the form of ‘Little Black Jack’ and ‘Chanel Camellias.’ One also cannot write about a Chanel exhibition without writing about the clothes. Most articles that I have read have focused on the jewelry however there is a stunning display of black couture pieces on show, which have been exhibited in a dark room through poles of light.

This exhibition is beautifully displayed and provides the viewer with the full Chanel experience. I must advise however, that it is extremely popular and you may be expected to wait before being allowed in. I thought going at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon would allow me to avoid this problem, however I wasn’t so lucky. Nevertheless, the splendor of the show more than made up for my fifteen minutes in the cold and every visitor is also treated to a poster and a bag upon leaving: perfect!

Mademoiselle Prive is on display at Saatchi Gallery until 1 November

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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