Last week, fashionistas rushing around Paris to haute couture runway shows found the familiar urban greyscale of the city dotted with fluorescent yellow.
This has been a winter like no other in Paris. On Saturdays, a sea of “yellow vest” protesters bring the city to a virtual standstill. Though life returns to quasi-normality on Mondays, a sense of unease lingers in the air, making for a practically unprecedented edition of Paris Fashion Week.
Against that background, Chanel unveiled its new high jewelry collection in the upstairs salons of its tightly secured Place Vendôme flagship.
The new collection is named 1.5—one camellia, five allures. While summer collections take their inspiration from a facet or chapter of Gabrielle Chanel’s life, each Chanel winter collection focuses on a specific theme that is part of the aesthetic codes of the Maison. This winter’s collection marks the triumphant return of the camellia, one of Gabrielle Chanel’s favorite flowers.
Everything in the stunning 50-piece collection is designed around the camellia. This time, the motif, crafted mainly in white gold, is designed into new rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, which are paved or set with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and quartz, each incorporating a version of the delicate flower.
“As Gabrielle Chanel’s emblematic flower, the camellia was one of her icons,” said the Maison Chanel.
It was the simplicity of the white camellia—a flower with no fragrance and no thorns—that first seduced the young Gabrielle Chanel, who shunned ornaments but was often seen wearing the flower, as evidenced by photographs dating back to 1913.
“To the opulence of a rose, she preferred its sobriety, its almost geometric roundedness and the classic ordering of its petals in a perfect symmetry,” explained the Maison Chanel.
Over the years, the contrast of a white camellia against a little black dress has become a signature at the house of Chanel. It was the same contrast that nourished Gabrielle Chanel’s imagination when she created a new style, outstanding for its stark modernity, and born out of memories of a childhood spent at Aubazine Abbey, a monastic convent with whitewashed walls run by black-clad Carmelite nuns, which was home to orphaned or abandoned girls like Gabrielle and her two sisters.
She first used a black-and-white palette to express her personal revolt against the flamboyance of baroque styles that were in vogue at the turn of the 20th century. In 1932, when Chanel presented its first high-jewelry collection (titled “Bijoux de Diamants”), it was a monochromatic ensemble of white diamond pieces set on platinum. Over the years, the Maison has forayed into colorful jewelry, without altering its carefully crafted identity.
“In 2013, Chanel had presented ‘Jardin de Camelia,’ a jewelry collection inspired by the camellia that was rich in color,” said the Maison Chanel. “This time, the studio decided to work around a simple camellia with multiple allures made possible because many of the pieces are transformable.”
Of the 50 pieces in the new collection, 23 are transformable, offering wide flexibility. A pendant can turn into a brooch, a drop earring into a pin, a sautoir into a choker. Freedom is a word that resonates at Chanel. Like corseted waistlines, jewelry for Gabrielle Chanel needed to be freed from the chains of convention. Neither an accessory nor a mere ornament, jewelry was the expression of personality.
“My jewelry is flexible and detachable,” Chanel once said. “You can take apart the jewelry and use it to match a hat or fur. A jewelry set is no longer an immutable object. Life transforms it and bends it to its own needs.”
The 1.5 collection brings together diamonds, pink sapphires, rubies and rose gold, set with subtle brilliance that combines the creativity and technique of Chanel’s jewelry-making with a hint of playfulness.
While the pieces are the result of technical prowess, the main idea was to simplify the wear of the jewelry. “Our goal was to allow our client to transform her jewelry by herself at home, without having to run over to the boutique to change a pendant into a brooch,” said the Maison Chanel.
The pieces are superbly crafted front and back, and none of the intricate technical details that make the pieces transformable is actually visible. A camellia often hides another, as highlighted by the “Rouge Incandescent” necklace featuring a Mozambique ruby in the center of a detachable camellia brooch that can be removed and worn separately. When removed, what appears is another openworked camellia, hidden underneath, that makes for a more ethereal necklace.
Pearls are as eternal as diamonds at Chanel. This year, the “Perles Intemporelles” necklace, in white gold, combines cultured pearls and diamonds around two camellias. A large camellia pendant is removable so that the necklace can be worn alone. As a brooch, it can be pinned back onto the necklace in a different place. A second smaller “pompom,” or tasseled camellia, can also be re-positioned in three different ways.
But Chanel is not just about contrasted white and black arrangements. The “Rose Tendre” ring embodies all the grace of Chanel’s feminine softness in white and pink gold, and a delicately carved pink quartz that is set with cultured pearls and diamonds.
Three jewelry watches complete the 1.5 collection, two of them with a secret dial hidden under a diamond-set cover that, when closed, turns each timepiece into a jeweled bracelet, a throw-back to an age when checking the time was seen as unladylike.
While the 1.5 collection is all about the camellia, it is also about a certain idea of style that radiates confidence and beauty no matter the season, with a simplicity that is a trademark at Chanel.
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