In 1932, the woman who’d made costume jewelry chic switched gears and designed a collection of diamond jewels she showed in her private apartments, declaring:
“In my profession, any means is legitimate, provided it is only used in the true spirit of fashion. I started creating costume jewelry because I felt it was refreshingly free of arrogance, during a period that tended towards ostentatious displays of luxury. This consideration faded into the background during the economic recession, when, in every sphere of life, there emerged an instinctive desire for authenticity, and amusing trinkets were once more put into their proper perspective.
If I have chosen diamonds, it is because they represent the greatest value in the smallest volume. And my love of things that glitter has inspired me to try to combine elegance and fashion through the medium of jewelry.”
(“Bijoux de diamants créés par Chanel” catalogue, 1932)
To illustrate her catalogue, Chanel showed her usual unerring flair for singling out geniuses by picking Robert Bresson. At 31, the photographer was still a decade away from making his first feature film Les Anges du péché; he would go on to be one of the directors most revered by the Nouvelle Vague. André Kertész, a star photographer, captured the uncanny surrealist beauty of the Belle Époque mannequins chosen by Chanel to display her designs, an iconoclastic move at a time when precious stones were presented on black velvet.
However, the intrusion of a female couturier in the world of haute joaillerie was not at all to the liking of the Place Vendôme establishment. Chanel was compelled to dismount the stones lent by the Diamond Corporation in London, so that in the end, her foray in diamonds endured much less than her perennial N°5.
Since then, the house has staked its ground on the Place Vendôme by opening Chanel Joaillerie at N°18. In 2012, it celebrated the 80th anniversary of the “Bijoux de diamants” exhibition with a new “1932” collection, as well as the lavishly illustrated Jewelry by Chanel authored by Patrick Mauriès. A keen fashion connoisseur and co-founder of the elegant and erudite FMR magazine with Franco Maria Ricci, Mauriès takes this coffee-table book beyond the vanity project and into the realm of the essay, turning it into a must-read for admirers of Chanel.
The anniversary was also marked by the launch of a new Exclusive, first presented to journalists last year with the “1932” jewel collection, and on sale as of February 1st.
The line already features a tribute to Chanel Joaillerie, N°18. Add one to 18, then to 31, and you get 1932 – the numerology-obsessed Chanel would have been pleased… The first whiff of 1932 does indeed call to mind N°18’s limpid ambrette facets – pear, rose, iris, musk – as well as 31 rue Cambon’s banana-tinged jasmine, though with none of its over-ripe fruitiness or warm ambery notes.
1932 is presented by Chanel as jasmine-centered, jasmine being to perfumery what diamonds are to jewelry. But the star-shaped flower, which reprises one of the main motifs of the 1932 jewel collection, is embroidered on a sterling-quality, chamois-soft iris. And iris plays just as much of a starring role in the scent. The press material equates this supple treatment of precious materials to Chanel’s vision for her jewels, clasp-less and flowing “like a ribbon on a woman’s finger”, an apt-enough simile.Here, jasmine is given a luminous, fresh treatment rather than playing on narcotic flower-flesh.
Like two of my favorite Naughties Chanels, 31 rue Cambon and N°5 Eau Première, 1932 feels both precision-engineered and somehow fuzzy. Niche aficionados are apt to find its gauzy texture a little too subdued, but I’m finding myself increasingly attracted to this style after a decade of quirky hard-hitters and solinotes. Sillage tends to be moderate and it is more fleeting than I’d like on me. But I find it so utterly lovely I’ve taken to spraying 1932 on a pashmina to stretch out its stealthy gorgeousness.
I will be drawing one 2 ml spray atomizer sample of 1932 from my decant.
To enter, drop a comment telling me about your favorite Chanel Les Exclusifs and why you love it (failing that, which one you’d most feel like testing). The draw will close on Monday February 4th.
Illustrations: top picture by Robert Bresson for the 1932 catalogue (courtesy Chanel), middle picture of the exhibition by André Kertész.Historical details are drawn from Jewelry by Chanel.