If Gabrielle Chanel’s library speaks largely of her most intimate world, it also suggests how a relationship with books can change the course of a lifetime.
The titles, authors and stories reveal that multitude of correspondences which existed between this reader and her books, a reader who was slowly becoming an author in her own field. Thus, books modelled Gabrielle Chanel’s reflections and transformed her intuitions into thought and purpose. In writing her own legend, she set ancient poets side by side with writers of the 19th century, and with her friends Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob and Pierre Reverdy.
In this «collision» of eras, she found a temporality within books capable of speaking both simultaneously within an era and beyond all eras... Perhaps this observation enabled her to elaborate a language that went beyond fashion, which is essentially ephemeral, to head towards what remains her signature: the development of a style, enriched and perpetuated until today.
Gabrielle Chanel was born on August 19th, 1883, at the hospice of Saumur. Daughter of a hawker, she came from peasant stock, Cévenole by her father, Auvergnate by her mother.
At the end of the 19th century, France was undergoing great change brought on by the Industrial Revolution that began around 1850, resulting in its first great rural exodus. Destitution pushed the peasants to the big cities and newly formed industrial regions to live. The “grande bourgeoisie” and the new industrial barons had taken power.
This society in full transformation was depicted by a number of writers in the realist style, like Guy de Maupassant who, that same year published The History of a Heart in which he described the book’s heroine, Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds, in the first chapter: «Jeanne now left the convent, radiant and full of vigour, with an appetite for happiness and ready to seize all the joys of life and all the charm of what chance may bring her, of which during the idleness of her days and the long nights and in the solitude of her hopes, she had dreamed so long.»
It's at Aubazine's orphanage that she constructed her aesthetic world. The symbols that made up a large part of her visual language can still be found in the convent buildings, such as stars, moon and the sun: a cosmos of round flat pebbles form a mosaic in its pavement, designs that she used, most notably the star, in her only fine jewelry collection “Bijoux de Diamants” in 1932.