Coco Chanel: a woman who reads

Coco Gabrielle Chanel. One couldn’t doubt the significance that this name holds not only for the fashion world, but also for the whole landscape of the XXth century. A myriad of different books, films, exhibitions have been devoted to her. Her life has been discussed an analyzed through different angles: childhood’s struggles, intriguing (and sad) relationships with influential men, challenges that formed her audacious character, an awe-inspiring creativity (Coco’s unmistakable signature), from which she made a powerful tool to constantly challenge the style norms and contribute to the emancipation of women. All of this has been precisely documented. Is there anything we haven’t already heard or read about her?

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However, Coco’s legacy is so much more than just tweed, pearls or black color. Thousands of women (and even men) are inspired by her self-confidence (or arrogance, as it’s often called), which translated not only in her style, but also in her ideas and actions. It’s not surprising that her quotes constantly provide a source for new articles. A collection of her thoughts could be an impressive manual of a very particular life philosophy… Even though this singular attitude cannot be easily imitated, her legacy does the job: Chanel clothes and accessories help women to feel self-assured, beautiful and confident. We know Chanel as woman, designer, innovator but the newest exhibition at the International Gallery of Modern Art Ca’Pesaro in Venice presents Coco as a woman with a strong cultural background. First and foremost, she was a woman who reads.

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This exhibition is part of a far bigger project entitled as “Culture Chanel” whose principal intention is to tell the exceptional story of Coco’s life by exploring unique, previously unrevealed themes. Books, albums, letters and relations with the greatest minds of the XXth century (such as Jean Cocteau or Pablo Picasso) – all of these things had an immense impact on her creations. Reading served as a shelter for a woman who often felt so lonely. It gave her answers to haunting questions and provided a greatest source of inspiration while dreaming about the future and the kind of life Coco wished to live. Books helped her discover a universal language, which resonated with her inner world, language of creation. As the curators emphasize, books “nourished her imagination and responded to her mystical quest for the invisible”. With such a symbolic charge the books held for her, it’s not surprising that the exhibition takes place in Venice, a city where she arrived in 1920, heartbroken and devastated after the death of her lover Arthur “Boy” Capel and where she searched for consolation. Just like books, Venice was a source of strength for a woman who was never destined to lead a simple life.

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The collection combines different elements that illuminate Coco’s relationship with art and culture: copies of the books by such authors as Plato, Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Marcel Proust, Emily Bronte and others rub shoulders with handwritten letters – remaining proof of the correspondence she kept with people whose work marked the most important moments of the last century. Manifestos of Futurists and Dadaists, publications of influential art critics (such as Guillaume Apollinaire), notes of Igor Stravinsky, drawings and paintings by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali… All of these things are also displayed under glassy surfaces and each one of them is worth a distinct chapter in Coco’s life.

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The last stop in this meticulously curated and impeccably elegant journey is a hall where a dialogue between the past and the present takes place. Here we find clothes by a current Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, flacons of Chanel perfumes, albums which shed new light on the way Chanel’s creations pass through the decades by juxtaposing pictures from the last century and images from recent editorials , examples of watches and objects which held a special significance for Coco… Anyone who’s ever peeked into the designer’s life or read at least one biography about her will understand why small lion statues and astrological maps are also placed here. Threads of mystery and symbolism are woven into Gabrielle’s life, so this exhibition is an attempt to decrypt at least a little bit of her secrets.

The exhibition continues up to 8th of January, so hurry up if you still haven’t seen it!

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