2011 Nov 08 Insider’s Tour of “Culture Chanel” Exhibition
Following in the footsteps of Louis Vuitton and Bulgari, Chanel is hosting a retrospective exhibition titled "Culture Chanel" at the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) from November 5 to December 13.
For China’s growing nouveau-riche population, the House of Chanel hits the mark in many ways. It’s French (read: highbrow), longstanding (read: reliable) and bears an iconic (read: easily recognizable) logo. No wonder it is currently ranked as the second most-desired brand in China after Louis Vuitton, according to research firm Bain & Co.
But the Wall Street Journal points out that “there’s a wrinkle in Chanel’s little black dress” – the Chinese market remains overly fixated on the luxury brand's fragrance (Chanel No. 5) and handbags (usually the ones bedecked with interlocking Cs). Thus far its womenswear hold far less appeal. In fact, the WSJ writes, “As a whole the category across all brands represented just 4.1% of the outlay for luxury in China in 2009.”
Of course, as Chinese shoppers continue to build confidence in their own aesthetic, the stats will inevitably start to balance out. Before that shift happens, Chanel is aiming to maintain its top spot by showcasing just how amazing the couture house is (and has always been). Which brings us back to their current exhibition: "Culture Chanel."
One crucial word of advice: Bring your passport. The seven-room exhibition (complete with a screening space, sound space and “library”) displays no written placards. Instead, an iPhone-style multimedia guide provides audio explanations, video clips and a map, but requires some form of ID to rent.
Grab one of the booklets (available in French, English and Chinese) at the left of the entrance to guide you through your tour. You’ll need it. The multimedia guide is helpful and informative, but there are many items on display lacking audio explanations.
The rooms are separated by five key Chanel themes: Origin, Abstraction, Invisibility, Liberty and Imaginary. The creative journey of the brand and its founder, Coco Chanel, is illustrated by more than 400 items, including original manuscripts, drawings, photographs, fashion designs, perfumes and jewelry.
We’d love to wax on about all our favorite pieces, but since we haven’t enough room, we'll list what we found to be the main points of emphasis throughout the exhibition:
- Coco Chanel conceived of the “Little Black Dress” (LBD), once going so far as to declare: “Before me, no one would have dared to dress in black.” (See Abstraction, Display Case 204.)
- She was a free spirit, endowed with a great deal of strength and determination. It was Coco, with her boyish figure and singular thinking, who spearheaded the androgyny trend for women. (See Liberty, Display Cases 402 and 414.)
- She had a lot of famous friends like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau, who all served to inspire one another’s work. (See Abstraction, Display Case 222.)
- She helped pioneer the minimalist aesthetic, and famously said, “Modernity could only be achieved with subtraction.” (See Origin, Display Case 104.)
- The exhibition, while artfully curated by Jean-Louis Froment, is motivated by a blatant (though admittedly effective) strategy to simultaneously attract and educate Chinese buyers. (See the screening space, above.)
Among all the beautiful embroidered gowns, original manuscripts and sparkling diamonds on display, one of the more powerful items was the classic quilted Chanel bag turned inside-out.
According to the narrated sound clip (in French-accented English), Coco devoted much thought to what her creations didn’t reveal. “Luxury must remain invisible – it must be felt,” she once said. “To be elegant, things must be as refined inside as out.”
And so the bag shows a deep red leather interior, with functional pockets. I watched a girl decked out in splashy Chanel eye the purse curiously, reflectively. May the transformation begin.
Photos: Xinhua.net/Li Jing, Tiffany Wang