A look inside Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment

I spent a glorious day in London last September. First stop was the compact but gorgeous exhibition by Sam Taylor-Johnson, that features 45 photographs of the private rooms of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris.

Chanel Exhibition

The exhibition had only just opened the previous evening and I pretty much had the place to myself. I imagine the fashionistas were already gathering at Somerset House for the start of London Fashion Week.

The first thing that struck me about the photographs was how dark they were – the only light Sam used to take them came from the street. I loved that. It gave a real sense of actually being in the apartment.

Coco Chanel
The shots capture details such as the mirrored staircase and the satin couch on which the designer was photographed by Horst in 1937, as well as her treasured trinkets, from terracotta camels and deers, to earthenware horses and gilded lions.

“Shooting at Coco Chanel’s apartment was an unexpectedly absorbing experience,” says Taylor-Johnson. “The essence of Chanel is firmly rooted there in all of her possessions and I truly believe that her spirit and soul still inhabits
the second floor.”

Stylish and atmospheric is how I would describe the exhibition. Even the photographs themselves were beautifully put together, printed on handmade paper by Gerhard Steidl and suspended in black frames.

But it obviously wasn’t to everyone’s taste. I overheard another visitor say to her companion “How long can you just stare at a photograph anyway? It’s boring”. It kind of makes you wonder why she chose to go to an exhibition of photography in the first place. And she probably thought I was very boring as I sat on a bench in the middle of the room, taking it all in. To me, it was fascinating.

Second Floor: The Private Apartment Of Mademoiselle Chanel is open at the Saatchi Gallery from September 12 to October 4.

Inside Mademoiselle Chanel’s Apartment: A Conversation between Sam Taylor-Johnson and Laura Bailey