Jennifer’s Jewels on display at Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, V&A, London

by | Oct 20, 2023

“It was a magical moment, to be invited to loan six items of jewellery from my personal collection to this landmark Chanel exhibition.”

It was a magical moment, to be invited to loan six items of jewellery from my personal collection to this landmark Chanel exhibition and help tell the glorious story of Gabrielle Chanel’s magnificent body of work.

Described by London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, as: “The first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of French couturière, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, charting the establishment of the House of CHANEL and the evolution of her iconic design style, which continues to influence the way women dress today,” my first visit was completely overwhelming, to the point I’m still finding it difficult to articulate the profound effect it’s had on me.

Inevitably, I’m itching to return to absorb even more of its wonder and will attempt to master my emotions so I can put pen to paper and share the incredible experience with you.

But until then, here’s just a small snapshot of the exhibition – my thoughts, feelings and first impressions.

“The first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of French couturière, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, charting the establishment of the House of CHANEL and the evolution of her iconic design style, which continues to influence the way women dress today,”

“This breathtaking exhibition intentionally sets out to cast a spell over you and I was bewitched from the moment I walked in…”

The Preview

This breathtaking exhibition intentionally sets out to cast a spell over you and I was bewitched from the moment I walked in; the magic at play as I wandered trance-like from room to room, knowing that at some point I would reach the hallowed room of jewels. A jewellery gallery dedicated to pieces created by the great Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, prior to her passing in 1971, there’s nothing quite like it. I can barely muster the words to describe the unbelievable feeling of walking through an exhibition – one of the most famed in the world (even prior to its opening!) – for the first time, giddy with excitement, knowing that I would gaze upon my own treasured possessions; possessions which have now been joyfully reunited with other jewelled marvels created by the iconic Gabrielle Chanel.

The exhibition preview was preceded by a delightful and electrically charged welcome reception in the grand foyer of the world-renowned Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London. A who’s who of the world of fashion, including Dame Zandra Rhodes, Philip Treacy and Hugh Grant mingled in the super-charged air of anticipation and brought an added touch of glamour to the event. The grand foyer was dressed to thrill – the reception desk transformed into a bar of dreams, sitting below the gigantic and impressively imposing Dale Chihuly Rotunda Chandelier (which always draws my gaze, no matter how many times I’ve seen it). Amidst the rounds of champagne and canapes a hubbub of excitement and chatter heightened the anticipation of everyone’s first viewing.

Walking down the steps to the Sainsbury Gallery, under the black entrance façade bearing the exhibition title in contrasting white – a Gabrielle Chanel time-immortalised colour combination – my heart was in my mouth, and I immediately felt I’d been transported to another world, another magical time and place. With intense and overwhelming emotion coursing through my body, I couldn’t help but reflect on the journey of the last fifteen months to reach this point. When I entered the first captivating gallery, surrounded by exceptional exhibits chronicling Gabrielle Chanel’s early life and career, the feelings of nervous anticipation were outweighed by excitement at finally seeing my jewelled treasures on display, in a small yet hugely important part of this already iconic exhibition.

I floated from room to room – each one a jaw-dropping work of art – taking sharp almost involuntary intakes of breath as I moved through the exhibits. I was not alone…the entire audience was mesmerised and intoxicated by the stunning curation, the richness of the exhibits, and the charged atmosphere, so artfully created by the museum. Several unexpected conversations struck up as we shared our awe, which were thrilling and added to the extraordinary atmosphere of this very special night.

So immersed by now in Gabrielle Chanel’s life’s work, it was almost incomprehensible to think that jewels from my cherished personal collection would soon appear, as if by magic, staring back at me in their privileged position, when ordinarily my early Chanel treasures would sit carefully packaged away, and largely out of sight (but never out of mind).

As I absorbed the enormity and grandiose scale of the exhibition, it was inconceivable to imagine (knowing my own loan process) the scale of the practicalities, work and sheer dedication needed to bring this exhibition of over two hundred, rare and delicate items, to life.

The Preview

This breathtaking exhibition intentionally sets out to cast a spell over you and I was bewitched from the moment I walked in; the magic at play as I wandered trance-like from room to room, knowing that at some point I would reach the hallowed room of jewels. A jewellery gallery dedicated to pieces created by the great Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, prior to her passing in 1971, there’s nothing quite like it. I can barely muster the words to describe the unbelievable feeling of walking through an exhibition – one of the most famed in the world (even prior to its opening!) – for the first time, giddy with excitement, knowing that I would gaze upon my own treasured possessions; possessions which have now been joyfully reunited with other jewelled marvels created by the iconic Gabrielle Chanel.

The exhibition preview was preceded by a delightful and electrically charged welcome reception in the grand foyer of the world-renowned Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London. A who’s who of the world of fashion, including Dame Zandra Rhodes, Philip Treacy and Hugh Grant mingled in the super-charged air of anticipation and brought an added touch of glamour to the event. The grand foyer was dressed to thrill – the reception desk transformed into a bar of dreams, sitting below the gigantic and impressively imposing Dale Chihuly Rotunda Chandelier (which always draws my gaze, no matter how many times I’ve seen it). Amidst the rounds of champagne and canapes a hubbub of excitement and chatter heightened the anticipation of everyone’s first viewing.

Walking down the steps to the Sainsbury Gallery, under the black entrance façade bearing the exhibition title in contrasting white – a Gabrielle Chanel time-immortalised colour combination – my heart was in my mouth, and I immediately felt I’d been transported to another world, another magical time and place. With intense and overwhelming emotion coursing through my body, I couldn’t help but reflect on the journey of the last fifteen months to reach this point. When I entered the first captivating gallery, surrounded by exceptional exhibits chronicling Gabrielle Chanel’s early life and career, the feelings of nervous anticipation were outweighed by excitement at finally seeing my jewelled treasures on display, in a small yet hugely important part of this already iconic exhibition.

I floated from room to room – each one a jaw-dropping work of art – taking sharp almost involuntary intakes of breath as I moved through the exhibits. I was not alone…the entire audience was mesmerised and intoxicated by the stunning curation, the richness of the exhibits, and the charged atmosphere, so artfully created by the museum. Several unexpected conversations struck up as we shared our awe, which were thrilling and added to the extraordinary atmosphere of this very special night.

So immersed by now in Gabrielle Chanel’s life’s work, it was almost incomprehensible to think that jewels from my cherished personal collection would soon appear, as if by magic, staring back at me in their privileged position, when ordinarily my early Chanel treasures would sit carefully packaged away, and largely out of sight (but never out of mind).

As I absorbed the enormity and grandiose scale of the exhibition, it was inconceivable to imagine (knowing my own loan process) the scale of the practicalities, work and sheer dedication needed to bring this exhibition of over two hundred, rare and delicate items, to life.

“Giddy with excitement, knowing that I would gaze upon my own treasured possessions; possessions which have now been joyfully reunited with other jewelled marvels created by the iconic Gabrielle Chanel”.

One of the seven illuminated cases and its treasured artefacts, from Patrimoine de Chanel, The V&A, and Jennifer Anne Gibson.

“Giddy with excitement, knowing that I would gaze upon my own treasured possessions; possessions which have now been joyfully reunited with other jewelled marvels created by the iconic Gabrielle Chanel”.

One of the seven illuminated cases and its treasured artefacts, from Patrimoine de Chanel, The V&A, and Jennifer Anne Gibson.

The jewel gallery

And finally, the moment I’d been waiting for arrived – the entrance to the jewel gallery sitting perfectly and alluringly at the end of an exquisite walk-through style gallery, showcasing an alluring run of Gabrielle Chanel’s most intricate evening suits in delicate hues of creams, pinks and golds; the bejewelled suits a fitting forerunner for what was to come next. Entering the jewellery gallery for the first time is an experience that is still beyond difficult to process and almost impossible to describe. I was already overwhelmed by the sheer splendour of the rest of exhibition – it had surpassed anything I could’ve imagined. The themed and chronological galleries, each a magnificent achievement and overwhelming tribute to Gabrielle Chanel in its own right. Speechless, standing in front of one of, if not, the world’s, most astonishing displays of early Chanel jewellery, all boasting impeccable heritage, it was pure and simple overload. Drawing on my reserves, it was all I could do to just gaze upon on the jewels in adoration and astonishment, each piece a beautiful discovery and a true delight. And there they were, my six precious pieces, sitting in the most illustrious company, including an incredible array of jewels from the Patrimoine de Chanel, Paris, the V&A’s own collection donated by Sir Anthony Nutting in memory of Anne, Lady Nutting and one other private collection. To think that I am one of just two private collectors that have loaned pieces to the V&A for this momentous exhibition is really quite mind-blowing and a huge personal achievement. The jewels looked simply spectacular, and despite feeling a little numb, a glorious wave of pride swept over me.

“Each jewel has lived a life of its own and is now and forever intrinsically part of the coveted heritage of this world-famous eponymous House, built by Gabrielle Coco Chanel from 1910 to 1971. This to me is jewel magic”.

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto Victoria And Albert Museum Preview Sept 2

Jewel Magic

The gallery is a dazzling room of joy, charting perhaps the most exquisite timeline of the House during Gabrielle Chanel’s tenure with a wonderful celebration of her unmatched vision, style and creative partnerships. Magnificent in overview, the gallery’s atmospheric low lighting is enhanced by the added drama of curved, jet-black shiny walls, thoughtfully mimicking the style of mirrored panels on the staircase at 31, Rue Cambon and contrasting to perfection each of the illuminated seven cases and their treasured artefacts.

The V&A’s own collection donated by Sir Anthony Nutting in memory of Anne, Lady Nutting (Image Credit: The Victoria and Albert Museum).

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto Victoria And Albert Museum Preview Sept 2

The V&A’s own collection donated by Sir Anthony Nutting in memory of Anne, Lady Nutting (Image Credit: The Victoria and Albert Museum).

Jewel Magic

The gallery is a dazzling room of joy, charting perhaps the most exquisite timeline of the House during Gabrielle Chanel’s tenure with a wonderful celebration of her unmatched vision, style and creative partnerships. Magnificent in overview, the gallery’s atmospheric low lighting is enhanced by the added drama of curved, jet-black shiny walls, thoughtfully mimicking the style of mirrored panels on the staircase at 31, Rue Cambon and contrasting to perfection each of the illuminated seven cases and their treasured artefacts.

Each jewel appears to sit, or should I say float (thanks to state-of-the-art, invisible mounts), resplendent in its new home and rightful place amongst some of the finest Gabrielle Chanel jewels in existence. The jewels take on a life of their own – a personality almost – in this unique and perfectly curated setting. Sitting there almost aloof, and proud, such is their importance – both individually and collectively – in helping to convey the story of her work, line by line, chapter by chapter. Despite their magnificence, they look totally at home – reunited – as if they had never left the illustrious House. Each piece, previously carried away by an elite client or friend of the House to embark on its own unique journey and be worn as the latest, chicest adornment on their haute couture ensemble, is wonderfully unique. What times they must have seen and stories they could tell. If only they could talk…well, to me, they certainly whisper. Each jewel has lived a life of its own and is now and forever intrinsically part of the coveted heritage of this world-famous eponymous House, built by Gabrielle Coco Chanel from 1910 to 1971. This to me is jewel magic.

Sublime storytelling

The jewels have been brilliantly and expertly curated by the tremendous team at the V&A. I simply can’t imagine a better layout. Each of the seven cases showcases a theme and comprises both pre and post-war pieces, celebrating the wearable art created by Chanel and her jewellery partners, including Suzanne Gripoix, the Duke de Verdura and Robert Goossens.

Each display artfully and mesmerisingly depicts the story of the almost incomprehensible diversity of jewellery styles imagined and created by Gabrielle Chanel in partnership with some of Europe’s most talented jewellers between the 1920s and 1971. I’m very much hoping you’ll have a chance to visit the exhibition, so I won’t spoil the surprise by talking in detail about the pieces just yet – I’ll come back in our next journal entry with the jewellery deep dive.

It’s clear to see that jewellery was not simply an afterthought or a fleeting fascination for Gabrielle Chanel. She invested significant time and energy in this area of her art, punctuating her lifetime and life’s work with a breathtaking array of costume jewellery. Jewellery was integral to her personal style ethos and her clientele through her collections. Moreover, her single-minded drive during the early 20th century to overcome conventional attitudes and establish costume jewellery as de rigeur, singles her out as the most influential champion of ‘faux’ perhaps to this day. As a result of this, costume jewellery is just one significant aspect of her legacy that endures in every fashion house at every level across the globe, not only in the House of Chanel. Such is her influence.

“Costume jewellery is just one significant aspect of her legacy that endures in every fashion house at every level across the globe…”

A glimpse of Gabrielle

Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’ promised to be a ‘must see’ exhibition and you really must see it. Not just because of the heady hype that surrounds any couture fashion exhibition, but because it’s a rare and enlightening glimpse into the ridiculously high-calibre work and unparalleled vision of Gabrielle Chanel – a woman born poor, illegitimate, and homeless in 1883.

I feel so very grateful to play even a small part in this landmark exhibition and remain hugely indebted to Oriole, Connie and the V&A for asking me.

Visit us again soon for my next instalment of Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto.

Individually sourced and authenticated by Jennifer

Disclaimer

Although our beautiful collection contains pieces from some of the world’s biggest couture houses, Jennifer Gibson Jewellery is an independent brand. We’re not affiliated with any of the institutions and companies we work with, nor do they contribute to the ‘authentication’ of our jewellery; this is Jennifer’s job. And of course, any trademarks and copyrights remain the sole property of the original brands.

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