Années Folles

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Pondering the 1920s instantly conjures rich images of extravagance and frivolity, of high-octane nightlife and rebellious dress, thriving society and decadent indulgence. For the after-dark mondaine of the roaring Twenties, no ensemble would surely be complete without a smattering of dazzling diamonds, making this decade the perfect reference point for Chanel’s most rebellious High Jewellery collection to date. Café Society sees the house’s iconic codes deconstructed and re-imagined as fantastical centrepoints to some of the most incredible jewel creations in the house’s history.

Glass speaks to International Fine Jewellery Director Benjamin Comar to discuss Parisian creativity, societal shifts and the ultimate muse: Gabrielle Chanel.

What is the story behind the Café Society collection?
We pay tribute to a very creative period, between the 1920s and the 1960s. After World War I the world opened up: wealthy American families came to Paris, artists fled Russia, and many of them mingled with French aristocrats. The world reinvented itself in terms of art, evolving from classic into modern. It was a very important period, and Gabrielle Chanel was at the centre of it, being one of the most famous creators of the time for fashion, accessories and perfume, and sponsoring art with Ballets Russes. She was one of the key members of the society, and was always entirely open to creativity and new ideas.

The Café Society collection offers a less literal translation of the iconic Chanel codes. Was this a deliberate nod to the liberty and, perhaps, rebellion of the 1920s?
We chose the theme of Café Society as a nod to the unique spirit of freedom which animated this group of exceptional people. After disobediently disrupting the social conventions of their time by allowing themselves to be together and form a circle while they came from very different origins, they also created together and instigated some of the most noticeable new, disrupting artistic movements of the early 20th century.

Our Creation and Design Studio wanted to experience this breaking from the codes, to open new horizons for Chanel High Jewellery designs and explore beyond our traditional icons – such as the comet, the feather and the ribbons – while remaining faithful to the philosophy of creation we inherited from Gabrielle in maintaining the femininity, fluidity, lightness and suppleness that characterise our creations.

The collection is an ode to the extravagance and ostentation of the 1920s elite – do you feel that this statement of anti-austerity is one which draws parallels with today’s attitudes?
Each period is different. Contexts are always shifting; the main topics stirring society are constantly evolving, as are our means of expression. I believe the spirit that animated the 1920s was truly unique.

Who is the Café Society woman of today?
Rather than designing pieces for a particular type of client, with each collection we strive to offer new, interesting designs, always with a view to accompany any woman to whom our designs appeal in all occasions in her life. Jewellery has changed in the past years; it used to be “trophy” jewellery, which a man offered a lady. Today women choose for themselves. They want freedom and they wear jewellery whenever and however they decide to, to give them pleasure and confidence.

The pieces were designed before the centrepiece stones were sourced, rather than designing around the stone. Do you find that this method of working allows for more creative freedom – allowing you to work totally unrestrained?
We have always worked that way: we design first, and then we source the stones and find the techniques to bring the designs to life. We have always been a “Creation-centred” Maison.

The Morning in Vendôme necklace makes a truly striking centrepiece to the collection. What is the story behind this particular piece?
The Morning in Vendôme necklace is absolutely unique. It is a nod to Place Vendôme, where our Fine Jewellery boutique has sat since 1993, but it was also the place which Gabrielle Chanel saw every morning from the windows of the room where she lived at the Ritz. This jewel bears all our values of creativity, femininity, suppleness and freedom. It is three pieces in one: the central motif can be worn alone as a brooch, and the necklace is transformed without into a smaller, tie-like piece.

Together or separately, the pieces are very articulated, supple and easy to wear. The colours are amazing, with this beautiful 12-carat central yellow diamond and the very graphic line of black onyx. It could never have been produced had it not been for our High Jewellery workshop located at Place Vendôme – it required specific techniques and, more so than any other piece, a constant interaction with our Design and Creation Studio. Over 1,500 hours were needed to produce the Morning in Vendôme.

by Roberta Lister