Late last Thursday evening, a glow of red lit up Shanghai’s West Bund Art Centre. Celebrities in the likes of Keira Knightley, Julianne Moore, Liu Wen, Zhou Xun, and Dua Lipa pulled up in their cars and disappeared through the doors.
It was the opening night of the French fashion house, Chanel‘s Mademoiselle Privé exhibition in Shanghai.
This comes as Chanel’s fourth Mademoiselle Privé exhibition worldwide — following the debut instalment in London in 2015, the second in Seoul in 2017, and the third in Hong Kong in 2018.
The Mademoiselle Privé (literally translated to mean “Miss Private”) exhibitions bring viewers into an exclusive, behind-the-scenes world beyond the products that they see in Chanel boutiques. So, if anyone has ever felt intimidated to inspect the most exorbitant of Chanel’s clothes and jewellery in stores, or had some burning questions about the intricate craftsmanship on the clothes and bags, they can now safely do so at the exhibition.
Here, a walkthrough of the exhibition:
Navigating The Space
From the moment you step into the West Bund Art Center, you’ll find yourself in a massive space with numerous red benches — shaped to spell “Mademoiselle Privé”. The exhibition is largely segmented into two sections — the ground floor and the second floor.
Before you race up the stairs, there is a highlight piece of exhibit you should pay pilgrimage to first — a white door.
This is no normal door. It famously opened into Coco Chanel’s work office. This office was later taken over by the late designer, Karl Lagerfeld. Today, Lagerfeld’s successor, Virginie Viard, sits behind this door.
On the door is inscribed “Mademoiselle Privé” — where the exhibition’s title was adapted from. Considering this was a sign put up outside her office, it’s likely a warning for her employees and visitors: “You are now entering Mademoiselle Chanel’s private room. Are you sure?” We wish we all had a door like this.
When you’re done, head up the stairs. They were modelled after the spiral stairs in Chanel’s original store and apartment along 31 Rue Cambon in Paris. Legend has it that from these spiral stairs that she designed, Coco Chanel could see every individual and what they were doing in 31 Rue Cambon.
There are three stairs, each leading to you to a different door and universe of Chanel: high jewellery, haute couture, and the Chanel No. 5 fragrance. Why these three segments? These were the three original arms of the business which Coco Chanel herself worked on in her time.
First up, the haute couture (or high fashion in English) room. Exhibition goers will get to survey 33 couture pieces from Chanel’s archives, and step into the late designer, Karl Lagerfeld’s workspace.
Pieces span from Spring/ Summer 2013 to Fall/ Winter 2018. Under the late Lagerfeld’s tutelage, there were some unexpected materials used in these haute couture pieces — namely concrete (in the Fall/ Winter 2014’s embroideries), aluminium (in Fall/ Winter 2018), wood (in Spring/ Summer 2016).
Over in the high jewellery department, the exhibition room was modelled after Chanel’s jewellery salon in 18 Place Vendôme. In particular, Coco Chanel’s first jewellery collection from 1932, titled “Bijoux de Diamants” were reinterpreted and displayed in this showcase.
Back then, Chanel focussed on five motifs for her jewellery designs: the stars, sun, fringes, feather, and bows. Yet, irregardless of the shapes and motifs, Chanel wanted her jewellery pieces to be light. “I want the jewellery to feel like a ribbon in a woman’s hands,” she once said.
Yet, with so many diamonds set on their jewellery pieces, we wonder if they truly feel light to touch?
Moving on to the fragrance department, the star of the show was Chanel’s signature scent, the Chanel No. 5.
The fragrance’s exhibition calls to Grasse, the French town renowned for its perfumeries. It was in 1921 when Coco Chanel herself paired up with the perfumer Ernest Beaux to work on her first fragrance.
In there, visitors will acquaint themselves with the ingredients list of the 98-year-old perfume — amongst them, the Damascus rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, sandalwood, vanilla, orange blossom.
When you’re done with the three exhibition rooms, head to the Chanel theatre where films by Karl Lagerfeld will be playing on repeat.
On your way down, pop by the Métiers d’Art corner. There are altogether five rooms showcasing the different traditional crafts companies that Chanel has routinely worked with over the decades — and eventually invested in.
The five craftsmanship arms are namely the embroidery house of Lesage, the milliners Maison Michel, the shoemakers Massaro, the feather and flower embroiders Maison Lemarié, and the pleaters Maison Lognon.
Before you leave the Métiers d’Art exhibition space, be sure to pop by the pop-up Lesage workshop to try your hand at embroidering sequins with the artisans.
Altogether, this exhibition should take you about an hour to complete. Appointments are made via Chanel’s WeChat platform, and are encouraged lest you don’t mind queueing.
Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé exhibition is now open at the West Bund Art Center (No. 2555 Longteng Ave. Shanghai) from April 20th to June 2nd, 2019.