Gabrielle Chanel will be on exhibition from 1 October 2020 to 14 March 2021 at the Palais Galliera. On this occasion, we spoke with Véronique Belloir, co-curator of the exhibition, and Sandra Courtine, co-scenographer.
What is the angle chosen for this first Gabrielle Chanel retrospective organised in Paris? What does this idea of a “fashion manifesto”, which is the title of the exhibition, mean to you?
Véronique Belloir – To take a look at the dressmaker to try to understand what this famous Chanel style is and why she is still today a reference in fashion, a symbol of casual chic, allure, style, something indefinable but essential for fashion in Paris.
“Fashion Manifesto” refers to two important moments when Gabrielle radically went against the fashion of her time. Firstly in the 1910s when she proposed a new vision of feminine elegance based on principles such as comfort, simplicity, freedom of movement and naturalness. The second moment corresponds to her return in 1954 when she proposed her suit which is the synthesis of the principles she put in place during the first part of her career.
You have opted for a chronological part, then a thematic part. How did you plan the exhibition route?
Véronique Belloir – The chronological and thematic tour is structured around notions that characterise Gabrielle Chanel’s work. Some of these notions, such as simplicity, youth, movement, are mentioned unanimously by the press from the beginning of her career. We have also tried to highlight the constancy of her positions and the extent to which Chanel’s creations – clothing, cosmetics, accessories, jewellery – form a whole and contribute to the unity of her style.
And the exhibition’s scenography with Sandra Courtine and Dominique Brard?
Sandra Courtine – Regarding the scenography of the exhibition, we wanted to explore Gabrielle Chanel’s taste for staging by reinterpreting or amplifying certain Chanel codes such as the screens and hidden exits of the Rue Cambon flat, the taste for triptychs, the sharp lines, the fragments of mirrors, the deep black lacquer… All these elements are declined throughout the exhibition, diverted, remodelled, adapted in a different way in each room.
The exhibition is driven by the dual intention of retracing on two levels the style created by Gabrielle Chanel, and of revealing to the public the new exhibition rooms on the garden floor of the Museum.
The scenography is then allowed to conceal the usually very present ground floor decorations, in order to better reveal the vaulted rooms on the garden floor.
For the presentation of the works, we have worked to make them unique, either through uniqueness or multiplicity.
For example, we have put in majesty the first No 5 bottle in one room and the comet brooch in another. These two rooms respond to each other aesthetically and spatially.
Multiplicity can also make the object unique as in the Tailors’ Gallery or with the long jewellery table.
In other rooms, we played with the symmetry of the architecture and the radicality of the scenography to create enchantment, as in the final room inspired by last year’s exhibition in Marienbad.
Through projected portraits, the continuous presence of the creator punctuates the journey while confirming the personification of her style. We evoke Gabrielle Chanel’s incisive choices through the radicality of a rectilinear, sharp and precise scenography contained in an ivory or black box.
On this occasion, you are presenting ten photographic portraits of Gabrielle Chanel. What can you tell us about Chanel’s relationship to photography and more generally to self-presentation? Could you choose a portrait and comment on it?
Véronique Belloir – Gabrielle Chanel devoted her long life to creating, perfecting and promoting a new form of elegance based on freedom of movement. She was the first to embody her own style. Her poses convey this idea of naturalness and casualness, which characterise her fashion.
In the first portrait of Kertész, where we have the impression that she doesn’t know she is being photographed, she shows another face, more authentic, she doesn’t pose. It is perhaps the only image we know of this kind.