At the heart of the exhibition is a film by Karl Lagerfeld in which Coco, played by Geraldine Chaplin, wakes up in her Paris apartment and confronts Lagerfeld. “What do you think you are doing?” she asks, and he replies “I am keeping you alive.” This exhibition is more than just a history of Coco Chanel; it is an imagining of the brand and its creation through Lagerfeld’s eyes.
The experience begins before you set foot inside the gallery. The entranceway to the gallery has been transformed into an English country garden by British landscape designers Harry and David Rich. It’s a tranquil space just metres away from the hustle and bustle of the Kings Road.
Once inside, the journey continues, taking you through key moments and places in Coco’s life: her apartment on Rue Cambon (complete with her famous mirrored staircase), to Venice, then Scotland, and her first shop in Deauville. You will then be taken aback by a giant birdcage that encloses a large glittering diamond necklace – a larger version of one Coco created in the 1930s. It is an exhibition about experience, and this room is breathtaking.
The fabric-lined room is a truly sensory experience. Long swathes of fabric have been hung from the ceiling, allowing visitors to touch the Chanel tweeds and silks, while upstairs the display is more traditional, with exquisite Chanel couture dresses and jewellery on display. The dresses are displayed on see-through mannequins with a pole of light shining through them allowing you to see all the painstaking detail in these fabulous dresses. Some of the diamonds, designed by Coco, are over 80 years old. Surrounding the room with portraits of modern-day Chanel muses, from Lily Collins to Lily-Rose Depp, you will be enraptured by the beauty that is Chanel.
An open space with futuristic golden wells that open and shut at random, revealing scents and colours, the Chanel N°5 room is filled with an ever-changing scent. After being surrounded by scent, the final room is another garden, although French this time, with neatly trimmed hedges forming the double-C logo on the floor. Creating a real earthy smell, this room is a lot calmer and introspective than the rest of the exhibition, especially in contrast to the heavy perfume of the Chanel N°5 room.
Speaking to the press during the press preview, Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s CEO joked: ‘We felt we wanted, and needed, to say something about what goes on behind the scenes; about creativity. When you see Chanel, you see Mademoiselle, you see her apartment, you see the magnificent shows, but you don’t see much about what’s happening behind the scenes. We felt it was a good time for the brand to give away some secrets.’ And we definitely agree: the result is a truly immersive and fascinating exhibition.
Mademoiselle Privé is on display at the Saatchi Gallery until 1 November.