Curator's Corner, 3/9/2013
Group portrait: Paul & Joe lipsticks

(Vintage) Couture Monday: Les Coromandels de Chanel

When I did the group portrait of the Makeup Museum's Chanel palettes, I realized I never posted about the lovely Coromandels de Chanel, which was released all the way back in the fall of 2005.  Meant to evoke the lacquered Chinese screens lovingly collected and displayed in Coco Chanel's Rue Cambon apartment, the palette consists of three horizontal bands of bold color imprinted with gold patterns.  Here is the full description from Vogue Australia.  "Imagine a journey, a very long journey, from the Ming Era to today…Starting in Asia, at the heart of Imperial China, it continues along the Indian coast of Coromandel until reaching Paris, rue Cambon, and ending at the apartment of Mademoiselle Chanel.  The link between the two worlds and eras resides in the singular art form of Chinese screens: Coromandels. Objects of passion for Coco Chanel, these famous lacquered screens-extremely fashionable in the 18th century – have now inspired Heidi Morawetz and Dominique Moncourtois in the creation of the star product for Autumn 2005: Coromandels de Chanel...With its antique frieze, olive branches and decorative scrolls 'engraved' in the pressed powder, Coromandels de Chanel resembles a screen fragment in the black frame of its laquered case. The precise and delicate motifs that decorate the surface take up the relief and colour of an illustration on one of Gabrielle Chanel’s screens.  With this creation, past and present have been brilliantly combined with art and innovation. Coromandels de Chanel not only draws from the immense heritage of Mademoiselle, it is also a modern breakthrough. Using laser technology, an electronic arm controls a laser beam to polish, colour and create 'incision' motifs on the compact powder. In line with the original screens, the palette offers a matte satin texture for a velvety skin result that is more powdery than shiny and as luminous as ever."

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In a quote from one her biographies, Coco Chanel states:  “I’ve loved Chinese screens since I was eighteen years old…I nearly fainted with joy when, entering a Chinese shop, I saw a Coromandel for the first time…Screens were the first thing I bought.”  Over the years she amassed 32 screens, and her apartment at 31 Rue Cambon contained 8 of them.  She used them as wallpaper and also to conceal doorways.  "Mademoiselle Chanel hated doors," Chanel archivist Odile Babin stated in an interview with NPR.  "She hoped that by placing the [the screens] in front of the door, her guests might not remember to leave."  (Coco Chanel used the apartment only for entertaining and work - she actually slept and took meals at a private suite at the Ritz across the street.)

As for the artistry of the screens themselves, the Chanel website has this to say.  "The Coromandel lacquer technique emerged at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), in the Hunan province, in the heart of China. The major themes include mythology, scenes of imperial life and love of nature, which bestow a spiritual dimension upon the art form."

The descriptionof the palette says that the patterns were taken after one of the screens owned by Mademoiselle Chanel.  While I couldn't find a picture of an exact match pattern-wise, the overall feel and colors are similar.  Below are some of the screens installed in her magnificent Rue Cambon abode.

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(images from thecoveteur.com)

Chanel-screens
(image from hookedonhouses.net)

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While I didn't see a match for the designs on the screens, you'll notice that the gold Greek-like pattern on this coffee table does match the one in the middle of the Coromandels palette.

Coco-chanels-apartment-boxes
(images from chanel-news.chanel.com)

So we have an explanation for the inspiration behind the palette, and the design does in fact align very closely with the beautiful screens owned by Coco Chanel.  However, I'm puzzled as to why the company decided to release this collection in the fall of 2005, when the pieces shown in the runway and couture shows displayed no Asian/Chinese influence whatsoever.  Unlike the more recent Byzantine and Versailles palettes, which were released in conjunction with particular fashion collections, Coromandels had nothing to do with what walked down the runways for both the fall 2005 ready-to-wear and couture collections.  Even the makeup wasn't remotely related to the theme of Coromandels.

Some pics from fall 2005 ready-to-wear:

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Chanel-fall-05-rtw-makeup
(images from vogue.co.uk)

And here's some from the couture show:

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(images from vogue.co.uk and vogue.com)

Chanel-05couture-makeup
(images from elle.com)

Perhaps it's because this palette was released before Peter Philips took over as Creative Director of Makeup in 2008 (and sadly, will be stepping down shortly).  Prior to his leadership, seasonal makeup collections were devised by Heidi Morawetz, director of the makeup creation studio, and Dominique Moncourtois, international director of makeup creation.  While the palette is certainly inspired, it may have been more timely had it been released in 1996, when Lagerfeld designed his Coromandels evening dresses. 

Chanel-dresses
(image from thecityreview.com)

Still, I can't begrudge Chanel too much in their lack of cohesion between the fall 2005 makeup and fashion collections.  Les Coromandels is a gorgeous and creative palette, and remains one of the Curator's favorites from Chanel. 

What are your thoughts?

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