The designs of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel have influenced and inspired designers for decades. The name Chanel is synonymous with the Paris fashion elite and the modern woman. Now directed by Karl Lagerfeld, the company goes from strength to strength. The Chanel Legend at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag explores the company and the creative directors in an extensive overview. We speak to curator Madelief Hohé about her approach to the Chanel archive and also the continued contribution of Lagerfeld on the industry.
A: Is the exhibition, The Chanel Legend, a celebration of the clothes that Coco Chanel created or an exploration of the woman behind the costumes?
MH: Both, since she was the personification of the modern dynamic woman in the 1920s and 1930s. We present pieces from that time and build a story, using facts and fiction, around her persona, the little black dress and the Chanel suit. The show ends with pieces by Karl Lagerfeld, and we also pay attention to the copies that came after Chanel. The last room is a photo studio, where we invite the visitor to wear one of the two original Chanel jackets that hang there, take a photo, and become part of the exhibition.
A: As curator, what are the main messages you want to share with your audience?
MH: The originality of Chanel and her meaning for fashion history, her place in it is an important one. And that she created classics, that are still alive today. Her work is both contemporary in its own time, but also has a timeless, classic beauty, that makes it appealing today. And Karl Lagerfeld is very important and skilled in continuing her work.
A: How does the work of Karl Lagerfeld form part of the exhibition?
MH: There are several pieces by Lagerfled and also one by Guibourgé. We explain that it took Maison Chanel 12 years before Lagerfeld was appointed creative director, there were other designers between 1971 and 1983.
A: What do you think are the highlights of the exhibition?
MH: The original Chanel pieces together are wonderful but I’d especially pick out those from the 1920s and 1930s; the flacon Chanel no. 5 from 1921, the costume jewelry, the costumes worn by Marlene Dietrich, Romy Schneider and Queen Paola of Belgium.
A: Have you discovered anything surprising, or curious or new about Chanel during the process of curating this exhibition?
MH: Yes I have, that she actually has been in the Netherlands, and we have photos of it. It was around 1950 and she was with her good friend barones Marguerite van Zuylen van Neijevelt and they visited the family caste De Haar in Haarzuilens.
The Chanel Legend, until 2 February 2014, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV Den Haag.
1. Coco Chanel, French couturier. Paris, 1936, Lipnitzki – Getty Images.