It’s the roaring ’20s—or “années folles” as they say in Paris. Inside the CHANEL boutique on Rue Cambon is a grand beige staircase lined by a mirrored wall reflecting silvery light. The scent of CHANEL N°5, spritzed on the stairs each morning, follows Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel as she ascends to her creative studio. She enters its door, which is marked with the words Mademoiselle Privé (Miss Private).
She sits quietly amidst camelia bouquets and coromandel screens, composing her first sketches of little black dresses and tweed suits. Inspiration shimmers in her eyes as she envisions a shower of diamond stars and comets—her Bijoux de Diamants high jewellery collection.
The aesthetic notes that ring out in this space will reverberate through CHANEL for more than a century to come. It’s a space celebrated, explored, and revived by the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition in Tokyo, Oct. 19–Dec. 1, 2019.
The exhibit, which has also visited London, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, is divided into five parts. Each part represents a room in Chanel’s apartment and also one of the five main colours in CHANEL’s pallet: white, beige, black, red, and gold. For example, one part draws on the iconic beige suede sofa in Chanel’s library. Another picks up on the baroque gold of the grand mirror in her salon.
Chanel used some of these colours as they had never been used before. Black was the colour of mourning, clergymen, and nuns. It was a hard and masculine colour until it visited 31 Rue Cambon and emerged a paragon of feminine elegance in the “little black dress.”
It was in 31 Rue Cambon that the very archetypes of modern, sophisticated style first materialized out of a woman’s dreams.