The Pluie de Cristal (“Crystal Rain”) necklace plays the strength of rock crystal against the seeming delicacy of diamonds.

During all the decades after she had become a legend, after she had forever altered women’s minds and wardrobes by crafting yards of silk jersey or wool bouclé into dresses and jackets that perpetually rank high within the pantheon of fashion’s most iconic items, Coco Chanel remained wholly content to live her life quietly amid the few blocks surrounding Paris’s Place Vendôme. Each night she slept at the Hôtel Ritz, which dominates this city square as prominently as the Vendôme Column that stands at its center, and then each morning she discreetly slipped out its back entrance to traverse the few dozen steps to her famed atelier at 31 rue Cambon.

  Chanel at home, in 1937

Of course, this daily trek and Chanel’s desire for a low-key existence are details almost as famed as the woman herself. Forty years after her death, Chanel’s life remains a deep well of inspiration, with the Place Vendôme playing a key role in the latest collections to emerge from the house. The label showcased these Fall/Winter debuts over a full week, making use of the romantic imagery one might conjure of Chanel’s presence in and around the landmark square, while also offering a little more insight into the dichotomies that drove the designer both personally and professionally.

A Study in Contrastes
The latter served as the central theme of the high-jewelry debut that took place at the Chanel Fine Jewelry boutique that resides directly across the Hôtel Ritz at 18 Place Vendôme: Dubbed Contrastes, the collection of 35 one-of-a-kind pieces highlights the yin and yang Chanel explored throughout her life’s work. “We wanted to play on another side of Gabrielle Chanel’s legacy that she left us, and that is her love of contrast,” explains Benjamin Comar, international director of Chanel Fine Jewelry. “First there is the contrast of materials, pearls and diamonds mixed with rock crystal, in some cases; a contrast of textures, rough and very polished; the contrast of color that she loved, namely her use of black and white; and the contrast of shapes which shouldn’t work together, yet play together beautifully. There is something for every woman’s pleasure.”

Indeed, Chanel’s ability to employ seemingly disparate elements to achieve an effect both artful and innovative was only one part of her overall appeal, says Justine Picardie, author of the just-released Chanel—Her Life (Steidl; $58). “She was the greatest fashion designer of the 20th century, that just goes without saying,” Picardie says. “Nobody comes close to Chanel in the sheer scope and range; her clothes transcend fashion, from the fact that she freed women from the corset to putting trousers on women to the little black dress to the use of tweed. But her own story is so archetypal and powerful: the story of a girl who came from nothing, from nowhere, and who ultimately took Paris and the world by storm. And beyond that, for so many women, their memories of their mothers and grandmothers are wrapped up in Chanel, very often in a bottle of Chanel N°5. It’s no wonder she endures.”

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