Resident of Tokyo Anna Wilmot reviews Chanel’s less notorious Mademoiselle Privé collection in a surprising exhibition
Chanel is undoubtedly a household name, notorious for revolutionising the world of high fashion, and instantly recognisable for its chic, timeless designs. Yet whilst the name may readily conjure to mind images of little black dresses and expensive perfume, you may be less familiar with the name Mademoiselle Privé. Once marking the door to Madam Chanel’s creative studio on 31 Rue Cambon, these words are now the title for a travelling exhibition showcasing Chanel Haute Couture, as well as an array of High Jewellery including Gabriel Chanel’s first and only collection, ‘Bijoux de Diamants’. This exhibition has already visited London, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul, and now the fifth chapter is now being held in a small corner of Tokyo. The event created a small buzz on social media when Pharrell Williams, Rina Sawayama, and other famous names performed at the Tokyo opening party, and now the exhibit is open to the public to enjoy totally for free. Any student’s ears will prick up when they hear the words “for free”, and so it was only a matter of time before we were drawn to the Tokyo installation of Mademoiselle Privé.
The venue seems unassuming and, if anything, rather inconspicuous. It takes an hour train ride from central Tokyo and a short walk in the biting cold before we stumble upon the exhibit; if it weren’t for the queue winding its way down the street, we might have missed it. We’ve booked ahead of time and we’re running late, so we skip the glowering queue waiting in the cold and are ushered inside the warm building. Inside, we are greeted by a white staircase, intended to mimic Madam Chanel’s iconic mirrored staircase if photographed from just the right angle. We’re forced to wait several minutes as a throng of Japanese visitors take turns to pose on the empty staircase, frantic to get that perfect Instagram-worthy shot. Eventually, our group is able to move onward and the exhibit staff, with their trade-mark Tokyo friendliness, explain the layout of the event and then send us off to explore unchaperoned.
The exhibition is not for the faint-hearted or the technologically challenged; in order to enjoy the full experience, the event asks its guests to download the Mademoiselle Privé app, and scan a QR code upon entering in order to unlock a wealth of behind-the-scenes treasures. The one-time app navigates the visitor through the exhibition, providing footage of the clothes in action on the runway, and offers a soothing audio-guide for the more plebeian of us who find that the artistic intricacies of the high fashion world leave us in a cold sweat.
But we’re in safe hands here. The exhibit is divided into five colour-coded rooms, each encapsulating a different phase of Madam Chanel’s artistic odyssey: sparkling diamond white; classic tan; innovative red; regal gold; and, of course, the iconic, seductive black. Guiding you through this Edgar Allan Poe-esque maze is the reassuring voice of the audio-guide, explaining the significance of each garment. There are only a few pieces on display in each room, inviting the guests to soak up the view and bask in every design. Swelling classical music adds to the dreamlike atmosphere, and creates a surreally slow and calming experience compared to the usual rush of daily Tokyo life. And nestled in the corner of every room, usually surrounded by an array of glittering Chanel jewellery, is the instantly recognisable Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle. Whatever motif the coloured room has been showing off inevitably relates back to the careful design of this little glass bottle: the bold shape, the subtle colour, the sleek packaging, even the font, is all dwelled upon lovingly by the audio guide.
The event doesn’t take long, but it’s completely dark by the time we leave. On the way out, smiling staff members hand each of us a small zip up canvas bag with ‘Mademoiselle Privé’ stamped on it in red letters. This Chanel exhibition draws in visitors, turns them upside down with dazzling displays of colour and design, and then sends them off into the night clutching their freebie bags, their heads spinning with images of chic suits, plunging necklines, elegant silhouettes, and a little glass bottle.