100 Years of Chanel : Around the World in 8 Signatures 


The story: It has been suggested that much of Chanel’s aesthetic was conceived at her time in an Aubazine orphanage. Pearls are included in this assumption the rosary beads and belts of the nuns the source. Some cite a string of thirty two pearls from Chanel’s one time lover the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich’s Romanov jewel collection. Chanel has never confirmed any of this but what is for certain is that pearls would be one of her most iconic signatures. And it continues to be inextricable from this adored house.

‘Adornment, what a science! Beauty, what a weapon! Modesty, what an elegance!’ Gabrielle Chanel once exclaimed.  Helping to free women from the bondage of the corset and hobble skirt. Gabrielle Chanel was famous for editing down. But when it came to ‘bijoux de couture’ Chanel would take the maximalist approach as often as she would the minimalist one. In the mid twenties Chanel enlisted Augustine Gripoix to create some of her first collections of jewellery. She would also work with Desrues throughout her career. 

‘A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls’

In the twenties a single rope of pearls was the standard for fashionable women. Chanel redressed the balance and as she reduced the clothes she upped the ante at the neck and wrist when it came to jewels. She held that ‘a woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls’ and again she would please herself and inspire copy cats all over Paris. Like Cleopatra and Elizabeth I before her made her mark in cascades of pearls. Christian Dior would even sum up Chanel’s influence thus; ‘with a black pullover and ten rows of pearls she revolutionized fashion’.

Chanel admired the simple beauty of the pearl. She said that they lit up a woman’s face. And aside from general beautification her ropes of pearls played a part in the overall look that Chanel produced. They would elongate the silhouette.

Along with Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet Chanel championed costume jewellery. Radical Chanel would mix faux and her impressive authentic jewels freely whatever the occasion. Jane Mulvagh dubbed it 'nonchalance de luxe'. 

On the catwalk today: The journey of the Chanel pearl continues under Karl Lagerfeld. The revival of faux pearls in the eighties was prompted by his appointment at Chanel. The ateliers of Desrues continue to recreate Chanel’s own jewels for the consumption of modern Chanel lovers. Pearls line sunglasses and explode super size on the catwalk. But really this is nothing that would have shocked Chanel herself. She was ahead of her time and would wear them mismatched, coloured and whenever it suited her.

Last year’s spring/summer show went back to the deep, the origin of the pearl beyond Chanel’s appropriation of it. The Grand Palais was transformed into a bleached out underwater terrain. Pearls were piercings, on belts, made for buttons and they cascaded from a net-like bodice. There were sea shell clutches, pearl lined sunglasses and the suits and jewellery in general were pearlised. For this spring/summer the pearl was supersized. Chanel's pearl necklace was redefined in a mass of fat pearls. It became polka dots punctuating fabric. Slim belts were studded with large pearls.

Pearls took a back seat for autumn/winter shrunk down appearing as a finer polka dot. For autumn/winter couture the pearl was kept at bay bar taking to the spurs of the models shoes. Chanel’s pearls continue to bewitch new generations and can be worn by the likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga.

Chanel 6040T - 'luxury is what you don't see' said Chanel - twenty four authentic cultured pearls line the brow

6040H Black C501S6

The sunglasses: Faux and real pearls have adorned Chanel sunglasses for decades now. Inspired by the pearl lined sunglasses worn on the spring/summer 2012 catwalk the lavish Only Perle collection takes twenty four cultured freshwater pearls to the brow. Each one is hand applied. Miranda Kerr and indeed this wearable sunglass continues in the spirit of Chanel's nonchalence deluxe. Kerr was seen wearing these sunglasses playing in the park with her son. 

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