Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
from Sailing to Byzanthium by William Butler Yeats (1926)
Whenever I write about Chanel costume jewellery, I like introducing my post with a literary quote, probably because I know that Karl Lagerfeld, as an educated man, always takes his inspiration from several artistic areas. The pre-fall 2011 collection, for example, is called Paris-Byzance, thus paying homage to the Eastern Roman Empire and to the impressive works of art produced under its wing (just think of the incredible mosaics decorating the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or the Basilica in San Vitale in Ravenna). The historical figure who mostly inspired Lagerfeld was a symbol of this empire, Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian I: her relevance in the culture of the time cannot be doubted, and the same can be said – from the point of view of fashion – for her style. The German designer fused the heavy head and neck ornaments worn by Theodora with the rich complexity of the infamous jewellery designed by Gripoix for Coco Chanel (Coco and Madame Gripoix started collaborating in the 20’s and experimenting with shapes, colour combinations and the use of Venetian patè de verre).
The complexity and refinement of Gripoix creations for Chanel cannot be compared to this collection – which surely has a clear commercial vibe. It’s not my favourite of Chanel’s recent collections of costume jewellery, but nonetheless there are some interesting pieces.
These brooches are made of gold metal: the first has a square shape and is embellished with enamel and plexi stones (the central one is decorated with a double c), while the second has a double c shape and is embellished with enamel, resin and glass stones. The first is definitely my favourite.
Sautoir necklaces are a staple in Chanel costume jewellery: in this case, it is made of glass and stones, with a medallion embellished with enamel and resin. The long earrings are reminiscent of Theodora’s ornaments: they are made of metal with glass and natural stones and glass pearls.
The most recent collections have included metal belts, and the trend can be found here, too: this one is made of tiny tesserae embellished with glass pearls, enamel and resin. The statement necklace, on the other hand, has surely been inspired to Theodora: the strands are made of glass pearls and plexi stones, plus two squared metal medallions.
Many pieces of the collection were worn by the models during the presentation in Paris. In the picture above, for example, Ginta Lapina was wearing a filigree necklace as headpiece/tiara, plus big pendant filigree earrings and a statement necklace in metal filigree, embellished with enamel and plexi stones. Far from being understated, this look is impressive thanks to the massive presence of jewellery – each piece enhances the others.
The metal filigree necklace Ginta wore as ornament for her cute beehive updo was worn by Naomi Preizler as a real necklace, paired to a filigree medallion necklace.
The piece on the left is a metal brooch embellished with enamel, resin and glass pearls. The one on the right is a metal filigree bracelet embellished with glass pearls. Am I the only one who thinks the latter is particularly tacky?
As usual, my favourite piece is a cuff bracelet. This one is made of black acetate and is embellished with a metal and enamel medallion and glass beads. I like it so much because the colour combination is sublime (pink and opal green) and because this is probably the piece which really pays homage to the collaboration with Gripoix.
The most beautiful piece d’exception of the collection was brought on the catwalk by Megan McNierney, who wore is on a cream coat with tweed trims: it’s a metal filigree and freshwater pearl necklace with matching detachable belt, which makes it really special and outstanding. I’m sure it’s not easy to pull such a dramatic piece off, but it surely should be paired to a very simple outfit, just to let it do all the talking.
Before closing, just a few words on the poem I chose as introduction: it’s probably the most famous poem by the great William Butler Yeats, Sailing to Byzanthium. First published in 1928 in the volume The Tower, it uses the journey to Constantinople as a metaphor of a journey to death; it’s a reflection on old age, the eternal value of art, which is clearly referred to in the last stanza: “Of what is past, or passing, or to come...” refers to the past, the present and the future, that is eternity, which he would like to sing not in his mortal form, but as an immortal work of art (as a goldsmith’s work of art, to be precise).