News broke in December that the august House of Chanel had appointed Leena Nair, an executive from Unilever, as its new global CEO. In a move that underscores the true meaning of boldness and experimentation, the British national will be transitioning from consumer goods to the helm of a French icon of luxury, and indeed one of the most desirable brands in the world. However, just prior to Nair’s appointment, an equally seismic moment occurred in the world of fashion as Chanel showed its Métiers d’art Collection — an always eagerly anticipated showcase that celebrates the unrivalled craftsmanship the luxury maison is known for — at a brand new venue: Le 19M.
For those unfamiliar with the term, métiers d’art means “professions of art” and it is also the name of Chanel’s annual collection that showcases these small specialist crafts using the language of style. Chanel began buying these little specialist workshops one by one in the mid-1980s in order to preserve their inimitable expertise, without which high fashion would not have worthy finery and ornamentation to survive and thrive.
Hence, Le 19M is designed to house all the métiers d’art businesses, creating a nucleus of extraordinary and rare art forms, each intrinsically connected to the world of French high fashion and style. Taking its name from several points of inspiration, the numerical element comes from the 19th arrondissement of Paris and the birth date of maison founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, while the “M” stands for la mode (fashion), le main (hand), maison (fashion house) and manufacture.
Occupying an expansive 9,000 sq m site in Aubervilliers in Paris’ northeast, the triangular Le 19M — which has about a year to go before it is fully completed — was imagined by the house of Chanel and designed by Rudy Ricciotti, a Legion of Honour-decorated Algerian French architect of Italian origin who studied engineering in Switzerland before moving onto architecture. Ricciotti’s CV is impressive, having designed the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée in Marseilles, the Pavillon Noir in Aix-en-Provence and the Jean Cocteau Museum in Menton, among others.
“It is a vast, very open space, with a facade adorned with threads of white concrete, a garden, beautiful walkways, and a large gallery where exhibitions will also be held,” says Virginie Viard, Chanel’s creative director. The façade of reinforced concrete in lattice work conceals interiors that will house the embroiderers Lesage and Atelier Montex, the goldsmith Goossens, milliner Maison Michel, the feather and flower maker Lemarié, the pleater Lognon and the shoemaker Massaro. When it is scheduled to fully open in a year’s time, some 600 workers from the great fashion métiers d’art ateliers will have a stunning new home.
But back to the true subject at hand, Chanel’s Métiers d’art Collection is one of the most highly anticipated shows outside of the traditional fashion calendar, and with good reason. Those privileged enough to have attended one would appreciate the unrivalled craftsmanship in breathtaking creations that fuse tradition with an experimentative streak.
This year’s luminous line-up of guests included Pharrell Williams, Carole Bouquet, Soo Joo Park and Sofia Coppola, who witnessed a parade of metropolitan and sophisticated looks — think tweed jackets with sweatshirt sleeves, graffiti-style embroidery in coloured beads by Lesage and casual coats worn open. Guests adjourned to the historic La Coupole restaurant in Paris for dinner afterwards, followed by a live performance by the French artist MC Solaar joined by Bambi Cruz.
This article first appeared on Dec 20, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.