It was all too tempting to do a comparative post between Louis Vuitton’s Series 3 exhibition and Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé exhibition, which has just opened at the Saatchi Gallery in London on Monday. Both are brand immersive experiences. Both are free for the public to attend. Both encompass huge spaces. Both have technology and social media centred in the initiative, albeit with two very different approaches and that’s where the similarities end, which is why I couldn’t really compare LVSeries3’s apples to Mademoiselle Privé’s pears. They’re two very different houses with different brand agendas.
Akin to the sort of brand “Disneylands” that Chanel and Dior have created in Harrods or in previous exhibitions such as Little Black Jacket and Miss Dior, Mademoiselle Privé does follow in that vein, where history, heritage and house codes bear repeating but in a way that is easily digestible, visually entertaining and of course, tailor-made for social media. Selfie sticks were already in action as soon as you stepped in the specially-commissioned English garden, lining the entrance into Saatch Gallery. The first floor deals with those Chanel-isms that even the most lightweight of fashion enthusiasts will vaguely know – that mirrored staircase of Rue Cambon, Coco Chanel’s beginnings selling hats in a shop in Deauville, her love of all things Scottish like tweed and fisherman’s sweaters and her attachment to certain totemic symbols such as the camellia, lucky numbers and colours like lacquer red. Everything is anchored with the Mademoiselle Privé app, which is used to guide you through the exhibition as well as reveal interactive details that bring parts of it to life, such as the opening staircase revealing Coco Chanel’s apartment or a Mademoiselle Privé door opening with Gabrielle Chaplin as a 50-something year old Coco.
In the Chanel No.5 room, the famous scent is broken down into a theme park sequel olfactory experience where the different notes burst up as fragrant steam from floor portholes. Multi-sensory is one of those exhibition buzzwords that actually applies here.
You get into more traditional exhibition territory as you wade through curtains of tweeds and silks, that are meant to represent the raw materials of the Chanel atelier with shadows of the seamstresses projected onto the walls. Upstairs, it’s an ode to Chanel’s haute couture tradition with a room placing neon lights through some of the most intricate and seemingly transparent haute couture pieces that Lagerfeld has created over the years. It’s an effective way of magnifying couture. The latest casino haute collection also gets its own room alongside Lagerfeld’s photographs of the stellar cast that rolled the dice at the table back in July in Paris.
Finally on the third floor, the razz ma tazz of the ground floor is dialled down for the workshops with Lesage and Lemarié, both of course owned under Chanel’s Parrafection umbrella. The public can sign up and make a fabric collage of camellias or try their hand at embroidering an intricate bejewelled brooch. I was evidently terrible at both so instead I photographed the deft hands of Grazia fashion director Susannah Frankel.
The inception of this exhibition might have had the digital world in mind and the method of viewing it might be seen through screens but if you do end up going to see the exhibition and take part in a workshop as well, you leave with two c’s in your mind, that are as important to Chanel as camellias or Coco herself. Craftmanship. Couture. They’re not there just to endear mainstream audiences to Chanel to impel them to buy a lipstick or two but are still, thankfully working realities.