Inside ‘Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto’

Showcased at the NGV, it is the first time the exhibition has been seen outside of Paris.

By Richard Clune 17/12/2021

The cultural significance of this country, specifically that of the National Gallery of Victoria, is central to the arrival of the acclaimed exhibition, Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto.

A man who doesn’t mince words, Chanels president of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky, offers such when speaking to Robb Report ahead of the showcase’s arrival in Melbourne, an exhibit which boasts more than 100 garments and ‘objets’  from the Palais Galliera, the Patrimoine de Chanel (Chanel’s own archives) and from additional public and private collections.

“For us it’s an honour to see the exhibition in such a museum,” says Pavlovsky in a soupy accent that could only be French. “I had the chance a few years ago to visit the gallery and was impressed by the quality of what was there; to hear that this museum wants to do this for Chanel, it is an honour.”

Indeed, it’s a two-way street given the coup, associated exposure and elevation that frames its antipodean adventure— an opportunity for the region to also embrace what is a heady and detailed discussion of the most revered historical French maison, and ultimately a chance to understand the central and ongoing contribution of couturière Gabrielle Chanel to fashion and wider culture.

Robb Report: This is very exciting, Bruno. From your point of view, what does this exhibition deliver?

Bruno Pavlovsky: The idea was to highlight Mademoiselle Chanel’s contribution in the Chanel of today and the fashion of today—and the opportunity came with the renovation of the [Palais] Galliera [Paris], which is one of the best, in a unique partnership and now it’s time to share it.

RR: It’s important to stress that this is an exhibition curated externally of the maison, by the Galliera and specifically director Miren Arzalluz. What does that enable in regards to having an outside body explore the work of Chanel?

BP: Yes, it’s not a Chanel exhibition, it’s an exhibition that talks about Chanel and contributions, and the expertise of the Galliera and Miren was important to not only embrace this topic but her background brings something historical. Her contribution is cultural and about the vision of Mademoiselle Chanel … The comments we received from the visitors in Paris were a lot about that—they were surprised to see how wide Mademoiselle Chanel [still] contributes in the fashions of today.

RR: It provides an insight into the so-called l’air du temps and the influences and cultural references that informed Mademoiselle Chanel’s impressive oeuvre …

BP: Yes, you go to this exhibition and you understand l’air du temps and how she was able to connect with many influencers, talented people of that period and how she took from them to be able to deliver this fashion—it’s important to understand that from a historical point of view.

RR: Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is very much an exhibition about the work and the creativity. It’s not a biographical snapshot or exploration of Mademoiselle Chanel’s life per se. 

BP: It’s about her contributions, it’s not that much about her. Well, it’s about her, I don’t want so say her art, but her passion … we are talking about the results of her contribution which is quite interesting in the results of today—what we know today from what she has done.

RR: What enables Chanel to be as relevant today as it has been in the past? It has always possessed a rare ability to navigate and align contemporary relevance and historical influence.

BP: The people here aren’t designing for themselves—like [creative director] Virginie [Viard]—they are designing to cherish the brand and to adapt the storytelling. They have a strong respect for the past and their job is to keep the brand l’air du temps, to modernise … It’s meaningful to our customers to have this permanent link with the past. We also need to face the future but we love what we have been able to do in the past.

RR: In any true discussion of Chanel, you always hear of the spirit” of Mademoiselle Chanel. What is that spirit as you see it, Bruno?

BP: It’s about this capacity to be connected to l’air du temps of that period, and be connected with many artists and craftsmen. She was able to take from these people around her and come with her collections. She knew how to connect with everyone and be thinking about the women she was designing for, always.

Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is at the NGV, December 4 to April 25, 2022; chanel.com; ngv.vic.gov.au

This piece is from our new Car Of The Year Issue – on sale now. Get your copy or subscribe here, or stay up to speed with the Robb Report weekly newsletter.

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