Queen of ornaments

  • Style
  • Tuesday, 05 Nov 2013

Actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is the new face of Chanel’s fine jewellery campaign.

More than a century after she revolutionised the way women dressed, Chanel continues to loom large in the public imagination, this time in the form of majestic feline-inspired jewels.

JUST when you thought almost every possible feat in fine jewellery had been done, in roars the “Sous le Signe du Lion”, Chanel’s high jewellery collection. Unveiled during the Paris Haute Couture Week this year, the collection features 58 one-off pieces that pay homage to the king of cats in the most spectacular fashion.

But it was bound to happen. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, you see, loved lions as much as she did pearls.

Born under the sign of Leo, the grand dame of fashion filled her apartment at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris with the likenesses of these powerful predators. Big or small, in marble or bronze, these trinkets and curios rested majestically atop tables and mantelpieces. That’s not all: she would also use lions to decorate the buttons of her suits or the clasps of her handbags on her couture pieces, much like lucky charms.

An ambassador for Chanel, actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey has felt very close to the brand since her childhood: her mother worked for Chanel and Astrid herself has always been fascinated by the story of the designer.

But her long-standing obsession with the creature was not merely the result of superstition – it transpired at an incredibly difficult time for her, after the unexpected, tragic death of Arthur “Boy” Capel, with whom she had been romantically involved with for 10 years.

Capel was an important figure in her life: By providing Gabrielle Chanel with the necessary funds to open her first boutique, he assured her the independence she had strived for above all else. He had treated her as an equal, and shown her how to truly love, without strings attached and unconditionally.

Broken-hearted, she fled Paris for post-war Venice in 1920, with the companionship of close friends José-Maria Sert, future interior designer of New York’s Rockfeller Center, and his wife Misia. At first, she was suspicious of the city and its decrepit façade. But slowly and surely, the city gradually began to cast its spell on her, and she was soon smitten by its artistic treasures – from the gold-leaf on Pala d’Oro to the golden tiles and mosaics of St Mark’s Basilica – as well as its more glamorous side.

Lion Solaire brooch in 18-karat white gold set with citrine, topaz and diamonds.

She recounted to French author and confidante Paul Morand later: “One day at the Lido, I saw a respectable old American woman sitting under a beach umbrella. All these young American women preparing to swim gave her their jewellery. In the end she looked like one of those virgin saints we have in the Auvergne, studded with cabochons; all the treasures of San Marco paled in comparison to her”.

Ultimately, however, it was the proliferation of lions – which has long been a traditional symbol of Venice and its patron saint, San Marco – that would leave its mark on Chanel for the rest of her life. The semblances of these creatures decorated door knockers, buildings, public monuments and peered out from mosaics. It would eventually become the sign of her destiny and a means of retying her life’s broken threads.

Inspired by this milestone moment, the house of Chanel has resurrected these emblematic animals in gold, platinum, lapis lazuli, diamonds and pearls. These objet d’arts – a maximalist feat of fantastical designs and striking colours spun from a wildly exuberant imagination – are sure to leave observers gulping in astonishment. Imagery is pushed to symbolic new lengths, whether it’s of a three-dimensional lion figure snarling protectively over a ring of black onyx or another prancing in the middle of a yellow-sapphire rosary necklace.

The Collier Lion Talisman combines yellow gold, multi-coloured cultured pearls and the omnipresent

powerful predator for good luck.

The spontaneity and playfulness of each and every piece is offset by the seriousness of its craftsmanship and quality. Take the “Lion Vénetien”, which celebrates the unshakeable link between Mademoiselle Chanel and City of Doges. The black cuff features a lion’s head in white gold and diamond that can be swung open to reveal a hidden watch.

The collection also includes the first jewel to be produced in Chanel’s very own high jewellery ateliers, which opened last year. The “Lion Royal”, the collection’s pièce de résistance, is entirely set with diamonds, while a handy system of clips means it can be worn as a long or short necklace. The lion’s head can also be detached and worn as a brooch.

The look – and it is not meant for wallflowers – is full of 1970s style and swagger. And it’s a brave testament to the house’s commitment to boldly venture beyond fashion’s comfort zones and surprise the world, just as Madamoiselle Chanel did with her life.

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Queen of ornaments


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