2021.8.31 TUE


Gabrielle Chanel's portraits
from MIROIRS-Manga meets CHANEL Exhibition

Exhibition view at CHANEL NEXUS HALL) ©CHANEL
Cecil Beaton, Gabrielle Chanel Portrait in 31 rue Cambon Staircase, 1965

Is a portrait an exact likeness of its model?
What does it reveal about the subject and what is the photographer’s artistic intention? Two views that are felt reciprocally, and that close observation brings out. Beyond appearance, the bearing, the attitude, the posture, the expression, the gestures, the staging all shed light on the character of Gabrielle Chanel, her identity and her way of presenting herself.

The multitude of portraits of Gabrielle Chanel are all different faces of the designer, like so many reflections of her personality brought to light by photographers, like the mirrors on the staircase of the Maison CHANEL, at 31 rue Cambon in Paris.
They also shed light on how Chanel consciously built her image and created her legend during her lifetime.

In fact, her image became a promotional tool for her brand. It is the image of a majestic, solitary Chanel, fully in possession of her power, that she wished to project in order to have a greater impact on the imagination. Her portraits by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton evoke the impact and influence of her image both on her brand and on the collective subconscious.

Exhibition view at CHANEL NEXUS HALL) ©CHANEL
Left:Jean Moral,Gabrielle Chanel and the Dancer Serge Lifar at “La Pausa”, 1937
Right:Man Ray, Gabrielle Chanel Portrait, 1935

An influence and seduction that can also be seen in the intimate portraits, which reveal utterly different facets of the designer. They reveal a more fragile, sensitive and accessible woman. Horst P. Horst uncovers a dreamy Chanel, Douglas Kirkland pierces the secrecy of her imagination by photographing her turned towards her books. Lastly, Jean Moral reveals a friendly and relaxed Chanel on holiday.

Under Frank Horvat’s eye, Chanel becomes a shadow, her image escapes her. Is her silhouette real or a reflection? No matter – she became a legendary figure during her own lifetime.

Exhibition view at CHANEL NEXUS HALL ©CHANEL

Frank Horvat, Gabrielle Chanel Portrait in 31 rue Cambon Staircase, 1958

As in the case of many personalities whose influence exceeds their earthly life, the image prevails and the imagination it provokes takes precedence over the person. The myth triumphs.


Marika Genty
CHANEL Historical Heritage Officer