Coco’s Birthday Party

In honor of Coco Chanel’s birthday, we’re hosting a cocktail party tonight, August 15 at our gallery at 730 N Wells Street. During the party we will have a special exhibition and sale of her exquisite vintage jewelry and accessories. The party will go on from 5:00 to 8:00 PM, so if you’re in the River North neighborhood, make sure to stop by and take advantage of this rare opportunity to see some of the finest vintage Chanel jewelry in Chicago and celebrate the extraordinary life of our favorite fashionista.

Make sure you check out our Dating Chanel post as well so you can learn to identify your vintage Chanel pieces!

Posted in Art History, Chicago, Couture, Design, Fashion, Jewelry, Modernism, Style, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dating Chanel: a Guide to Chanel Jewelry Date Marks

Chanel’s rich history could be cataloged and measured in infinitely many varieties of units. Seasons. Designers. Years. Pieces. Styles. Yet, because of the many ubiquitous themes and designs throughout such a history, it can often be hard to contextualize an individual piece historically. Luckily, from the precious little branding present on each piece, the date marks, we can glean when in Chanel’s history a piece came from. It seems then, that the eras of Chanel’s history may be best demarcated in terms of the date marks present on each piece.


Unfortunately, throughout the infancy of the Chanel brand, Coco Chanel would rarely put any markings at all on her pieces. While we can only speculate as to why, we know Chanel liked to consider her jewelry as a functional piece of her whole ensemble, so perhaps the lack of date marks was intended to make each piece of jewelry less of a stand-alone piece and more part of an entire outfit. Some of Chanel’s most famous jewelry, themes, and designs find their origins in this time period. The first Gripoix poured glass pieces were done for Chanel around this time as well, marking the beginning of a three-generation collaboration.

Ironically enough, the only pieces produced around this time that bore the Chanel name were not made by Chanel. In 1941, an American costume jewelry company, the Chanel Novelty Company, started producing costume jewelry with a script ‘Chanel’ stamped on each piece. This was during World War II, after Chanel had closed its doors, yet Chanel still protested the use of its name, suing the company. The name was thereafter changed to the Reinad Novelty Company and they stopped using the Chanel stamp. While not official Chanel pieces, these Chanel Novelty Co. pieces are quite valuable in their own right, as they mark a significant and tumultuous time in the history of Chanel.


In 1954, Chanel reopened her boutique, 31 Rue Cambon, after closing for World War II. She continued to produce jewelry designed specifically to accompany her couture, often times selling necklaces, brooches, earrings, and bracelets as part of a couture ensemble, so much of the costume jewelry she produced remained unmarked. Yet, around this time Robert Goossens helped design many of the costume jewelry pieces, and they began being stamped with the name CHANEL. Around this time pieces were being produced with the same stamp with an additional three stars underneath the name CHANEL. It’s unclear as to how it was decided which pieces would receive which stamp around this time. These two permutations of this stamp were used on most pieces until Coco’s death in 1971.

1971- 1980

Following Chanel’s death and Alain Wertheimer’s takeover of the company, markings on costume jewelry radically changed. Pieces still bore the CHANEL stamp, but it was enclosed in a stamped circle with copyright and registered trademark stamps in the upper left and upper right corners of the circle, respectively. “Made in France” was also stamped in the lower half of this circle. Also, for the first time pieces began to bear the interlocked “CC” logo, stamped between “Chanel” and “Made in France”. Necklaces around this time bore the same stamped plate, albeit in a different and quite ingenious manner. On a single link in the chain of each necklace, a small circular plate with the same stamp was folded in half over a link, producing a sort of semicircular tag. The plate was quite seamlessly integrated, often not even noticeable unless one were to examine the piece closely.


In 1980, the stamp was altered slightly. The “Made in France” was removed and replaced by a copyright symbol and the date the piece was produced.

It was around this time (specifically, in 1983) that Karl Lagerfeld took over as Chief Designer and brought with him a second wind of creative genius to the Chanel brand.


After being appointed head designer at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld brought Victoire de Castellane in as head designer of costume jewelry. De Castellane introduced a new plate that gave more focus to the season each piece was released. The plates became ovals, still bearing the classic CHANEL with the copyright and registered trademark signs now directly to the left and right, respectively. Underneath, in the very center of the plate, was the interlocked CC logo. On either side of the interlocked CC logo were numbers indicating the season the piece was released. For example, a piece from Chanel’s 23rd season would have a 2 and 3 on either side of the logo. Also, perhaps with a sense of newfound nationalism, the “Made in France” was returned to the bottom of the plate, where it had been initially. This style of plate was on all Chanel costume jewelry from their 23rd season to their 29th.


Beginning in 1993, the plate was redesigned once more with increased specificity regarding the season a piece was released. While most of the plate remained unchanged, the numbers indicating the season were replaced. In their place, de Castellane introduced the last two digits of the year the piece was released on the left of the CC logo and a letter, “A” or “P”, (“A” for Automne, or Autumn, and “P” for Printemps, or Spring) indicating the season within that year. Occasionally pieces will be marked with a “C” for Cruise collection or “V” for Summer, although these appear much less frequently than the larger Spring and Autumn collections. The plate was either stamped into a piece, soldered on directly (as with the aforementioned necklace plates), or in some cases, such as a few bracelets, the plate would hang like a tag or charm from the piece.

Even though Victoire de Castellane left Chanel in 1998, the stamp she introduced has seen very few changes in years since. More frequently, the pieces will read “Made in Italy” rather than “Made in France”, although that seems to reflect more of a change in production than design. Also, the stamp is increasingly being stamped directly onto pieces, rather than being stamped onto a metal plate and later applied to a piece.

In chronicling the history of Chanel, we can only be grateful that Chanel has taken so much of the guesswork out of it. With nearly 90 years of gorgeous jewelry on the market today, we can be thankful we don’t have to wade through archive after archive hunting for the origins of a certain piece. The date marks on Chanel jewelry allow us a much more intimate knowledge of where and when a piece came from, granting us a wealth of historical context and a closer connection to each piece.

Posted in Design, Fashion, Jewelry, Modernism, Style, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Emilio Pucci: The Prince of Prints

In the annals of history, it seems our most revered figures carved out their legacy with the odds stacked against them. The rags-to-riches stories, testaments to the power of self-determination, are often the first places one turns to for inspiration.

Yet, such was not the case with Emilio Pucci. In fact, his rise to fame is perhaps the very antithesis of the rags-to-riches story. He was born in to the lap of luxury. Yet, Pucci is to be revered for a different sort of drive, one unmotivated by fame or fortune. Pucci’s luxurious lifestyle presented him with a rare opportunity, to share with all the world a passion and creativity unmitigated by necessity.

Upbringing & Education

A member of the Pucci family, an old noble family in Florence dating back to the 13th century in which no family member had held a legitimate job in almost 500 years, Emilio Pucci grew up wanting for nothing. The resources and time available to him in his youth allowed him to explore a vast array of talents and interests, although surprisingly design was not initially among them.

He was a master sportsman, talented at swimming, fencing, skiing, and a plethora of other activities. His skiing skill even took him to the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, where he was a member of the Italian skiing team.

His skills as a sportsman were perhaps only outdone by his skills as a scholar. From an early age, he was devoted to education for education’s sake, and he stayed a lifelong learner. From 1932 to 1935 Pucci attended the University of Milan and studied political science. In 1935, Pucci was offered a skiing scholarship to Reed College in Oregon. Not one to turn down a new and exciting opportunity, Pucci went eagerly.

While at Reed, the first hints of Pucci’s design talent began to reveal themselves. He designed the uniforms for the skiing team, getting his first real design experience. He continued to study political science at Reed and received a Master’s in 1939.

Yet, as with many talented individuals working contemporaneously with Pucci, he had to put his interests and pursuits on hold when World War II broke out. After spending several years in the Italian Air Force Pucci returned to his studies, eventually receiving a Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Florence.

At this point in Pucci’s life, his career path seemed destined for a drastically different path than what he ended up with. Perhaps he would have become a lifelong politician had it not been for one chance occurrence in the winter of 1947.

Foray into Fashion

While told countless times in countless ways, in any telling of the story of Pucci’s entrance into the fashion world, his discovery is attributed to Toni Frissel, a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. In 1947, while out skiing in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Frissel spotted and photographed Emilio Pucci for an article on European winter fashion for Harper’s Bazaar. Frissel loved the outfit and the stretchy material Pucci had made it out of, and when she found out Pucci had made it himself, she knew she had found something big. Frissel’s editor loved the photographs so much he asked Pucci to contribute to the article, and upon its running in December of 1948, Pucci’s designs became a sensation.

The photograph that started it all.

Emilio of Capri

Upon suggestion from Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus, Pucci made the jump from the sportswear and accessories he had been designing to women’s fashion. He was immediately pursued by many manufacturers, but Pucci’s upper-class status allotted him the financial independence to do exactly what he wanted with his designs. In 1949, he started Emilio of Capri, his first boutique, on the Isle of Capri. Capri had become a very popular tourist destination for the wealthy following the war, which Pucci was undoubtedly aware of.

The clothing he made was perfectly suited for this environment of leisure and luxury. He sold scarves and accessories, fitted silk shirts for women, and short, tapered pants that soon became known as Capri pants. Yes, the invention of Capri pants is often attributed to Emilio Pucci.


Yet, Pucci’s clothing did not really catch hold of the American public until 1951. It was in this year that Pucci brought his designs to his first fashion show in Florence. Buyers from major American stores fell head-over-heels for Pucci’s innovative designs and clothing. Captivated by the simultaneously radical and practical pieces, they knew Pucci’s clothing was destined for greatness.

The Clothes

Pucci’s early life as a sportsman meant an intimate familiarity with a variety of stretch materials and fabrics that were in increasing demand in the fashion world. He used a combination of nylon, helanca, and jersey to make materials that were stretchy and comfortable as well as sexy and form-fitting. He also had the forethought to use wrinkle-free fabrics, ensuring that his dresses made for the perfect travel outfit for the wealthy tourists in Capri. Yet, such functionality alone would not be enough to corner such a scrupulous demographic of shoppers.

Pucci made clothing that seamlessly blended high fashion and comfort.

His combination of these laidback materials with brightly-colored, erratic, brilliantly composed patterns seemed to simultaneously channel both the spirit of the emerging, revolutionary breed of youth culture in the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as the Avant Garde stylistic sensibilities one would expect from a Pucci. His patterns and prints seemed to infuse Modern geometric tendencies and bright, summery color palettes and smooth, swirling lines that took inspiration from both his Mediterranean surroundings and his travels all over the world.

The lighthearted feel of Pucci’s pieces was a perfect match for the post-war zeitgeist of America. Each piece seemed to have its own identity, and indeed each dress said a lot about its wearer. In stark contrast to the Little Black Dress and other fashions that came before, the era of the Pucci dress was marked less by ubiquitous notions of elegance and more by individual taste and style. The youthful, practical style of the Pucci dress not only embodied American culture in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it helped define it.

Pucci, the Icon

The resounding impact of Emilio Pucci’s designs was not felt exclusively in certain spheres of the fashion world. Rather, Pucci’s growing list of celebrity clientele gave his pieces the exposure to catapult him to a cultural phenomenon. Celebrities like Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe loved Pucci’s dresses. Marilyn loved them so much, in fact, that when she died, she was buried in one.

Jackie O was fond of Pucci’s scarves and the many ways to wear them.

Marilyn could always be found in Pucci’s wild prints.

Although he was Italian, Pucci’s success seemed distinctly American, perhaps reaching the apex of such a qualification when he designed the mission patch for Apollo 15. After being unsatisfied through over 500 designs, the crew reached out to Pucci and asked him to design the patch. The result was three stylized birds in flight over the lunar surface, representing each crewmember.

Pucci even designed colorful, sexy, futuristic uniforms for stewardesses of Braniff Airways and Quanta Airways on many different occasions, and if that isn’t enough of a testimony to Pucci’s success, a Barbie was released wearing each of his first four uniforms designed for Braniff.

One of several outrageous, brilliant designs Pucci did for Braniff.

Pucci Today

While the psychedelic 70’s may have come and gone, Pucci remains as relevant as ever. Although Emilio Pucci died in 1992, his legacy lives on through his label. Now revered as the “prince of patterns,” Pucci had a direct influence on much of fashion today. His label has carried on the tradition of fun, lighthearted designs. In fact, the label even recently began to re-release classic prints designed by Emilio Pucci.

Nicole Richie reminds the world in 2012 that dresses from Pucci are as sexy and gorgeous as ever.

It seems now in the Summer of 2012 more than ever, Pucci’s prints are ready to make a resurgence. With fashionistas around the world feverishly styling themselves in prints and patterns, classic Pucci dresses are being thrust back into the spotlight. Moreover, the Pucci dress is quite possibly the best way to integrate this recent trend into one’s wardrobe without sacrificing lightweight comfort and ease of maintenance.

To see our full collection of Emilio Pucci pieces, click here.

Posted in Couture, Design, Fashion, Jewelry, Modernism, Style, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Artist Spotlight: Abbott Pattison

“I always thought that I’d be a sculptor. Even at 10 I was decided. At first I was absorbed by architecture. But when I went to the Chicago Art Institute and later to Yale University, where there was an outstanding art department, I was irrevocably on the way to becoming a sculptor.”

Abbott Pattison was an important sculptor for Modern art both globally and locally in Chicago. Born in Chicago in 1916, Pattison’s youth helped foster his lifelong artistic pursuits. He attended the Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park, an apparent haven for future artists, with such notable alumni as Pulitzer prize-winning David Mamet and two-time Academy award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler.

His collegiate education was no less conducive to success. Pattison attended the Yale School of Fine Arts where he was granted a travelling fellowship in 1939. He spent a year in China and Japan working and studying to hone his craft. Surprisingly little is known about his time spent in China and Japan, but the outbreak of World War II during his time there certainly impacted his stay. China and Japan had already been at war for over a year, although hostility between Japan and the United States would not begin for another year or two. What is known, however, is that sculpture in China and Japan around this time was characterized by a rejection of French figurative sculpture and a turn toward a more modern, avant-garde forms, subject matter, and materials. This transitional period presented Pattison with an interesting climate to develop his craft, and the influence of this time is definitely apparent in his work.

These sculptures by Pattison prominently exhibit Cubist features.From the multiplanar surfaces to the distorted figurations of the left piece, which are reminiscent of Picasso’s famous Cubist “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon” (1907), the Modern influences on Pattison’s sculpting practices are quite apparent.

Upon graduation from Yale, Pattison enlisted in the Navy, where he served as the captain of the escort destroyer USS Forster in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

When he returned, Pattison formally started his art career, and soon after became a hit in the local Chicago Art scene. In 1942, he won the Logan Medal of the Arts, a prestigious arts prize given annually by the Art Institute of Chicago, for his sculpture Kneeling Women. Ironically, the Logans, the namesake of the Logan Medal of the Arts, founded the “Society for Sanity in the Arts” and despised Modern art in all its incarnations. While Kneeling Women was a more traditional, figurative sculpture, Pattison’s work would later come to be defined as quintessentially modern, exhibiting strong Cubist and Abstract Expressionist features.

These 3 pieces by Pattison are perfect examples of Abstract Expressionist sculpture in the 1960’s.

This would be the beginning of a long relationship with the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1946, Pattison became an instructor there, where he would continue to work until 1952.

Pattison gained more global renown in 1948 with his seven-foot-tall bronze-cast clay sculpture Caribbean. The large sculpture depicted a woman fully rendered in classic cubist style reminiscent of famous cubist works like Braque’s Grand Nu.

“Caribbean”, Abbott Pattison, 1948

“Grand Nu”, Georges Braque, 1908

During the 1950’s, Pattison worked at the bronze-casting facility at the world-renowned Marinelli foundry in Florence. The Marinelli foundry has been around since the 11thcentury, casting bronze bells and sculptures, and Pattison’s sculpture undoubtedly saw great benefits in his being surrounded by such brilliant artisanship. Until his death, Pattison would return to the foundry every couple years to spend a few months working there. This juxtaposition of the skill and tradition of Marinelli bronze-casting, together with his sculptures’ profoundly modern nature, gives his sculptures an unmatched aesthetic resilience.

Bronze-casting in Florence gives a traditional “Old Masters” feel to Pattison’s modern art

Between 1940 and 1970, Pattison had 10 one-man shows. His work is on display in the Art Institute in Chicago, the MET in New York, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., Buckingham palace (by way of a personal gift to Prince Phillip), and many other renowned museums and galleries. Yet aside from small-scale, gallery-bound sculptures, in true Modernist fashion, Pattison was commissioned for many public sculptures as well. Across Chicago, Pattison has been commissioned to make such sculptures as Pavane to Chicago at Depaul University and Chicago Totemon Randolph Street. Across the country, Pattison has been commissioned to sculpt works for the Stanford Medical Center, the U.S. State Department, and many others.

Pattison describes his “Chicago Totem” (left) at 400 E Randolph St as “soaring, living, writhing with animal force” just like the city of Chicago. Photo credit: Jyoti Srivastava. The sculpture on the right, also called “Chicago Totem”, was an entry for a public sculpture in Daley Plaza. It eventually lost to the landmark “Chicago Picasso” by Picasso, which still stands in Daley Plaza today.
The Pavane to Chicago at DePaul University is one of Pattison’s most famous public works. Its plaque reads:
“Put into a hopper—one large portion of the sun rising majestically every morning for a millennium; add the beauty and life—giving quality of Lake Michigan with its turbulent and limped moods; and to that add a river that caused the first settlement here in this place, then add five-million Humans and five-million Birds and Animals in the greater Chicago area; then add the fierce energy and activities of all these living creatures and add to that the sound of the city in the middle of the night when even then – one can hear the throbbing pulse of the place. Well now, mix this all up and one behold Chicago and a sculpture of this couldn’t be just a person, nor an animal, nor the lake, nor the sun—but some creation containing all of these things, and this sculpture contains for the artist, a suggestion of the sun in the upper Southern portion and of the water movement throughout, and the surge of life everywhere.” Photo Credit: Jyoti Srivastava.

Pattison spent the latter portion of his life living and working out of Maine. He continued to work there until his death in 1999, although he always held a special fascination with the city of Chicago. Pattison is survived by his sister and fellow sculptor, Priscilla Pattison, who followed a similar course to Abbott in her interest in sculpture.

The relationship between Pattison and Chicago was one of mutual affection, respect, and generosity. Just as the city provided Pattison with the tools, inspiration, and freedom to pursue sculpting, Pattison returned the favor in decorating the landscape of the city with his gorgeous sculptures and bringing innumerable honors to the Chicago art community at large.

Posted in Art, Art History, Chicago, Modernism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, How Do I Make You Less Banal?

A Guide to the Many Diverse Roles of Mirrors in Interior Design

Mirrors are never quite given the credit they deserve when it comes to decorating a home or interior space. They are often overlooked or considered only when needed for their primary functional purpose, even though they are some of the most versatile pieces in the designer’s toolbox. One can utilize mirrors in a myriad of ways to make a space more comfortable, intriguing, and pleasing. You might be surprised to realize that many common decorating problems can be easily solved with some well-placed mirrors. Allow us to shed some light on a few of these simple solutions.

Mirrors can greatly enhance the lighting in a room. In areas where there are few windows or little natural light, one or more large, well-placed mirrors can effectively function as an ornate “window”, reflecting sunlight throughout a space. You can easily brighten up a room by placing a mirror directly across from a window, illuminating the space from both sides. You can even experiment with mirror placement to illuminate specific areas of a room that lack natural light.

The large, leaning mirror reflects sunlight from the nearby windows to brighten up the room. Photo from

This general concept extends far beyond only natural light. Mirrors can also be used to create and propagate whatever ambient light you’ve established in a room. Love sitting at the dining room table with a few candles for mood lighting? Try adding a mirror over an adjacent sideboard to reflect the light throughout the room to add to the ambience. Love the lighting from a lamp in the corner of a room? Try placing a mirror somewhere across from it to balance out the room’s lighting while maintaining decorative asymmetry. You can even place a mirror midway between eye-level and an overhead light fixture, such as a chandelier, to reproduce the fixture and its lighting on a wall.

Mirrors can add depth and space to a room. In small rooms or narrow hallways, one or more mirrors can make a space feel much larger and less confined. Placing a large mirror with a substantial frame in a small room can make the room feel more spacious and provide decoration for a significant portion of the wallspace.

This mirror makes the hallway feel much more expansive. Photo from

You can even achieve this same effect placing several identical or similar mirrors next to each other on a wall, opening up the room without reflecting it quite so explicitly.

Repetition of identical mirrors is a cool way to add depth and fill large areas of wall space. Photo from

This pair of Irish Waterford mirrors can occupy a significant amount of wall space and still look highly decorative.

Mirrors can reflect and emphasize focal points of a room. Just as mirrors can function to spread light throughout a room and establish its presence, so too can mirrors reflect specific objects to draw attention to their presence. They can offer alternative views of a central object, giving a viewer a new perspective of the piece. You can place mirrors in a room so as to allow a viewer to see a piece of artwork, for example, from several different angles. You could even place an object of particular importance like a chandelier or centerpiece in front of a mirror so as to double the objects presence in the room. They’re a great way to draw attention to subtle aspects of a space that might usually go overlooked.

The chandelier is seen from both sides, highlighting its importance. Photo from

Mirrors can themselves be artistic focal points of a room. For many mirrors on the market today, reflection is a secondary objective, and they function more as artwork made of mirrored glass. Some mirrors will feature many layers of diversely shaped mirrored glass, drawing attention to the interplay between these levels. Some mirrors, like this Art Deco depiction of Taurus, function as artwork done over a reflected canvas of your choosing.

Mirror frames will also often carry their own themes and motifs, contextualizing whatever is reflected differently than its unreflected counterpart. Choosing a mirror with a substantial and interesting frame is one of the easiest ways to establish a strong focal point in a room. Best of all, such a piece will rarely look out of place, since it will be reflecting part of the room itself.

The mirror takes a backseat to the frame in this French gold sunburst mirror.

The shape of this polished iron star mirror becomes its defining aspect.

You can also place several different mirrors together in your own artistic arrangement. Placing multiple heterogeneous mirrors together not only further expands the illusionary additional space of the room, but also establishes an interesting relationship between the shapes of the mirrors and between the styles of their respective frames. This end is further achieved since an arrangement of mirrors can fragment its reflection, offering a new interesting perspective to the same space.

By choosing diverse mirrors with some commonalities, you can come up with some cool arrangements like this one. Experiment with it!

Arrange these geometric mirrors by John Makepeace however you’d like for your own substantial, personalized wall art.

Mirrors can serve as room accents. A mirror with a frame consistent with the themes and motifs of a room can do wonders to supplement the composition of the room. Frames of matching or complimentary colors will subtly blend in with their surrounding wall’s decorations. By placing a mirror so that its backdrop, its frame, and the objects it’s reflecting compliment one another, you can effectively accentuate a room that needed a little something extra.

The wall behind the mirror, the frame, the reflected wall, and the mantle decorations all compliment one another beautifully. Photo from

Mirrors can feed everyone’s inner narcissist. A mirror is undoubtedly the best place to check yourself out. Try placing mirrors in entryways for guests or other well-traversed areas, because let’s face it, we all always want to look our best.

Photo from

To see all the beautiful modern mirrors we have to offer, head to our online shop!

Make sure to follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter if you found this article interesting or helpful!

Posted in Art, Decoration, Design, Modernism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hermès Scarves

Nowadays, Hermès is synonymous with high-fashion fun. With specialization in everything from fine jewelry to bath linens, Hermès approaches each medium with the same timeless, elegant, care-free philosophy. Each Hermès piece reflects the creativity and aesthetic tradition that has drawn casual consumers and devoted collectors alike to the company for generations.

Brides de Gala, 1957, Hugo Grykar, Hermes’ best selling scarf, takes cues from Hermes’ equestrian origins

Hermès started out in drastically different circumstances, however. Thierry Hermès started the company in 1837 repairing and selling harnesses and bridles. Eventually, his son took over this business and started making and selling saddles, as well. The company grew rapidly, catering to the saddle needs of the elite from all across the world. They expanded to clothing and leather goods when the owner was granted exclusive rights to the zipper on clothing. After introducing the zipper to France, Hermès prospered unprecedentedly. In the 1920s, they expanded to accessories, handbags, and women’s couture. These innovations, however, only seemed to set the stage for what would become Hermès’ defining item: the scarf.

In 1937, Hermès introduced their first scarf, named Jeu des Ombinus et Dames Blanches (Omnibus Game and White Ladies). The scarves Hermès produced became incredibly popular in France and became an established part of French culture. They were revolutionary, not in functionality, like the zipper, but in how they were made. One simply will not find a more finely constructed, beautifully designed scarf than one by Hermès.

Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches, 1937, Hugo Grykar, Hermes’ first scarf

When Robert Dumas introduced Hermès’ scarf line, he dedicated himself to maintaining the utmost quality in every facet of the scarves. Hermès was already known for their painstaking attention to quality and detail, as they had filled the gamut of custom orders, from the mundane to the exotic, to perfection. They bring the same pursuit of quality to the production of the scarves. Hermès oversees every step of the Scarf production, from the raw materials to the final release. They oversee the purchase of raw Chinese silk at auction, the spinning of the yarn, and the weaving of the fabric. The hem of each scarf is stitched by hand, and the scarf is hand-rolled. The final product is a scarf far more durable and comfortable than the majority of those on the market. Yet, the construction of the fabric alone is not a true testament to the quality and appeal of Hermès scarves. The designs on the scarves also attest to the their appeal.

Farandole, 1985, Caty Latham

Romantique, 1973, Maurice Tranchant

Hermès scarves are well known for the heterogeneity of their designs. Each scarf tells its own story with stunning themes, motifs, colors, and designs. Designers slave over a worthy scarf design and artisans likewise slave over translating that design to perfection. Each scarf is screenprinted one color at a time, with the most complicated scarf using 40 different colors. Originally, this process was done with vegetable dyes that would take a month to dry, meaning a month between the application of each color to a single scarf. The whole process of coloring each scarf is incredibly time-consuming, but it is meticulously achieved for the sake of the quality of the scarf and the faithfulness to the artists’ design.

Sequences, 1983, Caty Latham

Jumping, 1971, Philippe LeDoux

Some of these designs are so classic and visually impressive that customers will opt to display the scarf as wall art instead of wearing it. Artists like Hugo Grykar, Kermit Oliver, and Philippe LeDoux have all made names for themselves designing some of the most well received scarves Hermès has to offer. The scarves often have floral or natural motifs and equestrian motifs (as homage to the company’s origins), but with over 25,000 designs produced to date, the themes and motifs of their scarves span the gamut. Hermès briefs their artists 24 months in advance about the theme of the year they will be designing for so they can start research. Hermès has even been known to fly their artists around the world for research and inspiration for the theme.

Alphabet de Metiers, 1945, Philippe Dauchez

Splendours of Maharajas, 1996, Catherine Baschet

These beautiful scarves function not just as something to keep one’s neck warm, but as a versatile piece of wearable artwork. How one incorporates it into their style is a personal decision, but an Hermès scarf is a worthwhile addition to everyone’s wardrobe. See some of the many fun ways you can wear your Hermès scarf below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can also check out a full archive of Hermès scarves here!

Posted in Couture, Design, Fashion, Style, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coco’s Empire: The Story of Chanel

Most accounts of Chanel’s life contain equal parts fact and fiction. She would often fabricate significant portions of her life, creating an entire mythos surrounding her. Perhaps embarrassed, she would often lie about her ignoble beginnings. She refused to let her lowly upbringing define her, saying in regard to one’s class, “You’re born in it, not of it.” In reality, she was born Gabrielle Chanel to a laundrywoman in France in 1883. When her mother died, she was sent to an orphanage in Aubazine Abbey, where she learned to sew.The corridors of the Abbey had mosaic tiling patterned with crosses, stars, and moons, all of which eventually became motifs ever-present in Chanel’s designs. Even inspiration for the famous Double C Chanel logo can be found in the interlocking loops in the patterned glass in some parts of Aubazine.

The Maltese Cross, a motif from Aubazine.

The Interlocking Double C, Chanel’s Logo.

She eventually found a job as a seamstress and spent her spare time singing in a Cabaret. She found her first exposure to the decadence of Parisian high society when she became the mistress of the textile heir Etienne Balsan. She lived lavishly with Balsan, but she was often alienated by Balsan’s high society friends. During this time, Chanel saw the stage version of La Dame aux camelias. It resonated profoundly with her discomfort as a courtesan of sorts in Balsan’s home and her struggle to cope with the death of her mother, and the white camellia would later become a substantial motif in much of Chanel’s work.

Chanel’s entry into the world of design came when she began her affair with Arthur Capel. He was very wealthy, so Chanel’s life of luxury continued. Yet, she realized her financial dependence on him and her implicit subjugation. Longing for a means of freedom, she turned to design. By manipulating her image and feigning the necessary youthful innocence, Chanel persuaded Capel to fund a business selling hats she had designed. The hats were stripped of excessive ornamentation, in stark contrast to the popular trends of the time, and they exuded the youthful schoolgirl persona that she had crafted for herself. She then expanded her business to clothing, continuing the elegant, youthful themes.

Chanel would use richly embellished, ornamental jewelry as the perfect compliment to the sleek, chic, little black dress.

This business was definitely successful, but several innovations soon elevated Chanel to fashion stardom. She designed and created her “little black dress”, and it took the fashion world by storm. It was a sleek, sexy garment beckoning to be adorned with dramatic belts and jewelry. It was the antithesis of all the colors and ornament pervading the fashion world at the time, and it ushered in a new age of chic. Chanel was met with even greater success when she released her perfume Chanel No.5. She knew she had something special when Ernest Beaux made it for her, but it did not truly take off until 1923, when Pierre Wertheimer gave Chanel substantial financial backing to start Les Parfums Chanel, Chanel’s perfume company. It is now the world’s best selling perfume.

Maison Gripoix’s poured glass became a Chanel mainstay. This piece utilizes Chanel’s signature poured glass colors: red and green.

Chanel furthered the success of her brand when she started designing costume jewelry in 1924. It was perfect compliment to her sleek, simplistic fashion designs, adding flashy touches of color and opulence. Through her work with Maison Gripoix, master of poured glass, she developed her own unique style. She utilized the sharp contrast of red and green gems, and she would often use both fake and real gems together in a piece. She defended this practice, saying, “The point of jewelry isn’t to make a woman look rich but to adorn her.” Just as she would recount her origins with equal part fact and fiction, her jewelry was a blend of real and fake with only one concern, the final aesthetic beauty.

During the Great Depression, Chanel began to use white prominently in her designs. In her words, it was suggestive of “a candid innocence”. Just as with black, she embraced the absoluteness and purity of white. She loved the way it contrasted everything it was placed against. Her use of white was clearly inspired by the time she spent on the French Riviera. She would say, “A very white earring on the lobe of a well-tanned ear delights me… How brightly [these young women’s] jewelry would glitter if worn on a skin bronzed by the sun. ” Consequentially, when Chanel made white fashionable, the suntan became fashionable as well.

White became Chanel’s color of choice, and no medium was better than pearls.

After the launch of Chanel’s diamond collection, DeBeers’ stock rose 20 points in 2 days.

In 1932, Chanel worked with Paul Iribe, a famous designer and former lover, to create her first diamond jewelry line. The pieces featured many of the motifs Chanel had encountered in her days at Aubazine Abbey, such as the 5-pointed star. They also featured barely visible settings, making the diamonds the sole visible feature of the pieces. The line was met with great praise and propelled Chanel into the spotlight of the fine jewelry industry. Moreover, the influence of Iribe on Chanel’s jewelry designs was far greater than just collaborating on the diamond line. His influence can be seen in her frequent use of large, substantial stones and massive, wild settings in much of her jewelry.

The success could not last forever, though, and in 1939, France declared war on Germany, and Chanel was forced to close her shops and stopped designing indefinitely. She did not design again until 1954, when she decided to launch a comeback collection. She found a great reception in the United States and Britain, where she was revered as a 20th century fashion icon. Her clothing and jewelry became hugely popular in the U.S. throughout the 1950’s. She launched a purse in 1955, the 2/55, known for its characteristic gold shoulder strap and quilted leather, that became wildly popular and still is today.

This purse borrows the classic gold strap of the 2/55 handbag.

The quilted patterning of this purse is iconically Chanel.

In 1960, Chanel ceded her position as Chief Designer to Robert Goossens. Under Goossens’ lead, Chanel became known for its long, rosary-style necklaces and use of gold, poured glass, and pearls.

Coco Chanel continued to design until her death in 1971. Yet, even though Coco passed away, the House of Chanel lived on.

Karl Lagerfeld, the man responsible for revitalizing Chanel in the 1980’s.

In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld(right) became chief designer of Chanel and faced the task of modernizing

Chanel designs while staying faithful to its characteristic style. He ushered in a new wave of success for Chanel with his flashy, eye-catching interpretations of classic Chanel motifs, like pearls, coins, and crosses. He infused these traditional designs with the gaudiness of 1980’s design and made the pieces arguably more stunning while remaining true to form.

Coco Chanel was a controversial figure and her life and work seemed to be characterized by near-constant dissonance. Yet, for every truth and lie she told, for every rare and common gem she used, for every tweed suit and pearl necklace she wore, Chanel was defined not by specificities but by the mythology that surrounded her. No empirical fact, falsified story, or secondhand account seems capable of accurately describing Coco Chanel and the mark she left on the world. It seems the only thing truly able to characterize her larger-than-life persona is the legend that she left behind, the multibillion-dollar testament to her genius, the House of Chanel.

To see more gorgeous Chanel jewelry and couture, visit our website,!

Posted in Art, Art History, Couture, Design, Jewelry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment