Hasn’t everything already been said about Karl Lagerfeld and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel? Obviously not. Despite an abundance of literature and films on these two subjects, two exhibitions intend to explore them in greater depth. Through July 16, “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York presents over 150 garments created by the designer for Chanel, Fendi, Chloé and his own label during his prolific career that lasted from the 1950s until his death in February 2019. As for Gabrielle Chanel, the 2020 exhibition dedicated to her by the Palais Galliera in Paris continues to travel around the world: After Tokyo and Melbourne, it will be presented in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum starting September 16.
In both exhibitions, the curators’ intentions are the same: Shine a light on their work, which was often overshadowed by their charismatic personalities. “Karl Lagerfeld created an Andy Warhol-like caricature of himself that allowed him to appear in the spotlight. We spent a lot of time dissecting his good words and his attitude. What I was interested in was to show his creative process,” explained the Met’s curator Andrew Bolton.
Bolton got the idea for the exhibition during the memorial service that followed Lagerfeld’s death, when he saw a video of Chanel’s first studio assistant explaining how she transposed the drawings the designer sent her into 3D models. Digging through the abundant archives, Bolton said he was struck by Lagerfeld’s consistency in constructing silhouettes based on oppositions: feminine/masculine, romantic/military, rococo/classical, historical/futuristic, floral/geometric, the list continued. “Resolving dichotomies, that was what his work was all about,” Bolton explained.
‘The Karl Years for Chanel’
This process of detaching the character in order to investigate the true working methods connects with the exhibition centered on Gabrielle Chanel at the Palais Galliera: “Over a hundred biographies have been written on her, and most of them talk about her private life. Few talk about clothing. We wanted to go beyond the legend, tell the story of her technique as a dressmaker and the modernity of her work,” explained Miren Arzalluz. The Palais Galliera’s director and curator of the exhibition also tried to erase every personal aspect of Coco Chanel’s life and show how the designer considered elegance inseparable from comfort – a very unusual concept at the time that partly explains the success of her brand.
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