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 The Woman Who Reads
 
CULTURE CHANEL, The Woman Who Reads. Inspired by these words of Roland Barthes, “The Woman Who Reads” exhibition - the seventh chapter of CULTURE CHANEL  series, based on the iconic couturière’s life and the House of Chanel, - has been created for Venice, which was a source of inspiration for Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. Dedications, archives, photographs, paintings and drawings are nestled in and amongst a wardrobe of fashion creations that reveals, much like a library, the aesthetic vocabulary of Gabrielle Chanel, her taste for classicism and the baroque, and her love for Russia and the golds of Venice.
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The Woman Who Reads
CULTURE CHANEL
 


 
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CULTURE CHANEL, The Woman Who Reads.

Photos Credits: Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel on her sofa looking at her library July 1962 - Photography Douglas Kirkland Collection, Los Angeles. 'The woman who reads' opens with a handwritten note by Gabrielle Chanel. Collezione privata ©Photo Thierry Depagne

If you were to open a text about the history of literature today, you should find in it the name of a new classic author: Coco Chanel. Chanel does not write using paper and ink (except as a pastime), but with fabric, forms, colours. Yet this does not prevent her from being regarded as having the authority of a writer of the Grand Siècle, as elegant as Racine, as Jansenist as Pascal (whom she quotes), as philosophical as La Rochefoucauld (whom she imitates as she also produces aphorisms), as sensitive as Madame de Sévigné…Roland Gérard Barthes - French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician -  wrote these words in 1967, in a now famous article placing Gabrielle Chanel’s work within the great library of metaphors in the history of classic authors.
Inspired by these words of Roland Barthes, “The Woman Who Reads” exhibition - the seventh chapter of CULTURE CHANEL  series, based on the iconic couturière’s life and the House of Chanel, - has been created for Venice, which was a source of inspiration for Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel
The Venice exhibition (September 17th 2016 - January 8th 2017) conceived by Jean-Louise Froment - French artistic director, who has worked at previous editions of the Venice Biennale - follows Moscow in 2007 (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts), Shanghai (Museum of Contemporary Art) and Beijing (National Art Museum of China) in 2011, Canton (Opera House) and Paris (Palais de Tokyo) in 2013 and Seoul (Dongdaemun Design Plaza) in 2014. Each stage narrates the tail of Gabrielle Chanel’s tumultuous story in the 20th Century, drawing attention to the relationships Mademoiselle Chanel had with the best creative minds back then. Everything she seeded, she sowed, from her friendships to her most intimate conversations. “La donna che legge, is the cast shadow of Gabrielle Chanel's secret memory. I imagined this exhibition forgetting all the images of her life, but submerged in the fragrances of her library, looking over her shoulder I slowly came closer to what's most intimate, profound - the undisclosed light of her readings still reflected in her creations.” said Jean-Louise Froment.

Ca'Pesaro, Galleria Internazionale D'Arte Moderna in Venice, Italy / Fondazionne Musei Civici Di Venezia, courtesy of CHANEL

This exhibition in Venice, held  at the Ca’ Pesaro, International Gallery of Modern Art, evokes Gabrielle Chanel’s creative world from a totally new perspective: that of her relationship to books and reading. From Greek authors to modern poets, Gabrielle Chanel’s abundant library reveals the works that left an impression on her life and shaped her personality. Gabriella Belli, director of the Venice Museums Foundation, said the city had been keen to present an exhibition dedicated to Chanel. The exhibition analyzes from “the unprecedented angle of her sources of inspiration: poetry, art and literature. The eyes of Coco Chanel as they lay on the pages of a book or the canvas of a friend painter provide us with an original, new and sometimes surprising outlook on the early 20th century history.Belli said.
Chanel's Paris library. In her apartment at 31 rue Cambon, the book shelves square up to the Coromandel lacquer panels, the comforting presence of the writings would accompany her and inspire the construction of her own pieces.Each author also showed her the density of work to be done to make a novel out of her own life. “Throughout her lifetime, books were what remained closest to her. Still today, on the walls of her famous apartment in rue Cambon in Paris, the large calm landscapes of her library and those of the Coromandel screens much busier with images (yet also written) coexist side by side. Here, the smell of polished leather bindings still mixes with the fragrance of her favourite perfume, N° 5.” said Jean-Louise Froment. The woman who reads opens with a handwritten note by Gabrielle Chanel: «The life we lead always amounts to so little, the life we dream of, that’s the great existence because it continues on after our death».
 
Gabrielle Chanel, circa 1908 - Ferréol de Nexon Collection, Paris ©Ferréol de Nexon

From a young age, Gabrielle Chanel made books her companions and as time went by what she read in her youth gave way to a distinct taste for literature and poetry that was aroused by her relationship with Arthur Capel who turned her into an erudite reader.
From the solitude of her years in the orphanage of Aubazine until the end of her life, books and their authors guided Gabrielle Chanel’s path, they nourished her imagination and responded to her mystical quest for the invisible, and showed her how over time, her own view of the world might be set in place.  Coco Chanel made books her companions and as time went by what she read in her youth gave way to a distinct taste for literature and poetry that was aroused by her relationship with Arthur Capel who turned her into an erudite reader. This dialogue through the ages, from antiquity to her contemporaries, is underlined in particular by the works of Homer, Plato, Virgil, Sophocles, Lucretius, Dante, Montaigne, Cervantes, Madame de Sévigné, Stéphane Mallarmé, and resonates with the writers she knew and admired like Pierre Reverdy, Max Jacob and Jean Cocteau whose diversity, according to the House, “allowed her to find in her own vocabulary — that of fashion, a modernity that defied its own temporality.” In fact, the multitalented and influential Cocteau met her through actress Cecile Sorel in 1917 and introduced her to some of the major artists of their time. In1924, she created costumes for the Blue Train, a ballet which featured a libretto by Cocteau and stage curtain by Pablo Picasso.

Above: JEAN COCTEAU Coco Chanel
 c. 1930 - Below: JEAN COCTEAU Coco Chanel
 'The professional secret' Paris, Au Sans Pareil, 
1922. KARL LAGERFELD FOR CHANEL / 2013/2014 Métiers d'Art «Paris-Dallas» 
Dress in black velvet embroidered with golden stars
. Dress in black silk tulle embroidered with golden stars
 Cruise 2011/2012
. Dress in navy silk crêpe embroidered with comets, black silk tulle 2002/2003 Métiers d'Art
. Pullover in black cashmere decorated with a «trompe l'oeil» embroidery of the «Comète» necklace created by Gabrielle Chanel in 1932

Dedications, archives, photographs, paintings and drawings are nestled in and amongst a wardrobe of fashion creations that reveals, much like a library, the aesthetic vocabulary of Gabrielle Chanel, her taste for classicism and the baroque, and her love for Russia and the golds of Venice. Art objects from her Paris apartment are on display for the first time, along with jewellery pieces and perfumes. CULTURE CHANEL, La donna che legge, 350 pieces sketch an intimate portrait of a creator revealed through her reading who knew how to transform her life into a legend.



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