Exhibition London Oct 2013

Chanel Exhibition - London - Oct 2013

An original letter from Chanel's first shop on Rue de Cambon, which is still there today, this original letter written in 1968 was contained in the glass cabinets at the exhibit and is the property now of Marion's daughter Jeffie.
I am happy to blog about the latest Chanel Exhibition which I thoroughly enjoyed in London this week.  This blog is not strictly about my usual subject Handbags! but about the iconic woman that is Chanel who of course is the most amazing handbag designer but so much more than that also, I felt compelled to share a bit more of her with you, and the world she lived in and of her great friend Marion Pike's relationship with her, which reveals another side to Coco.  i hope you enjoy it.  Sissy x
The Fashion Space Gallery is located in the heart of the West End at the London College of Fashion flagship site in John Princes Street. The nearest tube is Oxford Circus. Fashion Space Gallery
London College of Fashion
20 John Princes Street
This exhibition explores the friendship and working practices of two, extraordinarily talented, creative women.  Everything to see was unusual in that it was all contained in one room, it was a small exhibit by any standards but a very interesting one! I hope you enjoy some of the photos I took. 
Californian artist Marion Pike met Coco Chanel in 1967, when she went to the couturière’s Paris atelier to paint her portrait. Chanel has been depicted as lonely and embittered in later life. The story of their immediate friendship reveals an alternative narrative, a more cheery side to Chanel I think is revealed through some of Marion's portraits of her where she was relaxed in her home. 
Marion painted at least thirteen expressive portraits and huge, colour saturated, works of Coco seated amidst bolts of cloth. And, Coco dressed the artist and her daughter in chic, luxurious clothing. Surviving garments reveal that, even in her eighties, Chanel’s fashion flair remained undiminished. Exhibiting their works together an exquisite, shared, palette emerges. Portraits of women whose life stories intersect with those of Marion and Coco’s own, along with one of Marion’s many self-portraits are also exhibited. The artist’s ability to also capture places and nature is demonstrated eloquently by Paris cityscapes and flower paintings.
The exhibits are lent by Jeffie Pike Durham, Marion’s daughter. She met Coco in 1968. It was an unforgettable, affirmative experience. This is also Jeffie’s story…


The intensity in her eyes is captured brilliantly by her friend, I love the exquisite detail and the detail of her pretty necklace.


Marion and Coco were introduced via Frederick Brisson, a mutual friend who produced the Broadway musical ‘Coco’ (1969). The first time Marion went to her salon, Coco kept her waiting and so she sketched what she saw around her. Chanel could be highly critical and aloof. When she viewed Marion’s drawings she credited her as ‘a real artist’. She then removed her own scarf and placed it around Marion’s neck, to mark the beginning of their friendship.
The women experienced very different life stories. Marion’s biography was privileged and nurturing, whilst Coco’s childhood was impoverished and lacked love. Both of their mothers died when they were children and they each experienced the suicide of a close family member. As women, they challenged gender norms by living independent lives, dedicated to their chosen métier. Both adored the opera, horse riding and appreciated the functionality of menswear clothing styles.
Coco romanticised her past and destroyed personal documents before she died. Conversely, Marion left masses of evidence and never “managed” her biography. It is the items Marion chose to preserve that are exhibited.
A snapshot, taken at Chanel’s house in Lausanne, captures Marion and Coco laughing together: their mutual affection is tangible. Neither woman retired – the final days of each life were fulfilled by work. When she heard that Chanel had died, Marion was painting sublime skyscapes in Barbados…

MARION PIKE (1913-1998)

"Garden Camelias" 1967, Acrylic on masonite board 103.5 x 129cm. One of Marion's beautiful paintings done at the same time she painted portraits of Coco Chanel and part of the London Exhibit recently. Absolutely stunning in reality, I really adore this one.
‘Follow your own very original convictions…A sage has said that when one follows someone, one always remains behind.’ Marion
Marion grew up in California in a supportive and privileged environment. In 1933 she graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Oriental history and the nickname ‘Speedball’ for her sporting prowess.
She learned her craft by studying and copying the techniques of the artists she most admired – Delacroix, Degas, Goya, Van Gogh and Velázquez. Six months each year she worked in Paris. Marion was always independent – financially, spiritually and in her working practices.
It was as a portrait artist, with an exceptional ability to capture the soul of her sitter and let it radiate in paint, that she was best known. Monumental portraits were her signature: she called them ‘Big Heads.’ After the intensity of painting people, she found depicting flowers – fragile, oversize and floating in space - re-energized her. From the 1950s to the 1980s her work was exhibited extensively.
Marion enjoyed beautiful clothes but they were not her priority. In 1968 she introduced Jeffie to Coco, who observed that she watched her mother ‘with such kind eyes’. Coco gave Jeffie a suit and necklace from her own wardrobe. She was delighted she was the same size as a gamine young woman!
Throughout her life, Marion demonstrated great generosity and kindness. She touched deeply many people’s lives.


CHANEL (1883-1971)

Chanel Wool Suit Spring/Summer 1969 - and still what is presently worn today.
‘A dress is neither a tragedy, nor a painting; it is a charming and ephemeral creation, not an everlasting work of art.’ Chanel
In 1967 Chanel was 84 years old, her hands ravaged by arthritis. She continued to work six days a week. In October 1967 she presented her spring/summer 1968 collection. She hung Marion’s recently completed ‘Coco Chanel: Big Head’ and ‘Chanel in her Atelier’ prominently at her catwalk show.
Chanel presented comfortable, elegant, understated – but never unremarkable – softly tailored suits and stylish dresses. To these she added more trend-led designs, such as the brocaded silk lamé tailored shorts ensemble made for Marion. Exquisite materiality and meticulous craftsmanship were hallmarks of her luxurious haute couture garments. She also made everyday working trousers for Marion.
Out of the public eye, Coco could be affectionate and comedic: it was this “side” of her that so enchanted Marion and Jeffie.
Chanel was superstitious. Her lucky number was 5 and she adored lions, the motif of her August birth sign. The luxurious, sheepskin-lined, wool coat she gave Jeffie features her signature metal buttons with domed lion heads. She was buried in Lausanne: her tombstone features five carved lion heads.
One of Chanel's quotes:
"Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door" - Coco Chanel
Chanel wool coat, Autumn/Winter 1969 Wool lined with silk-edged sheepskin. Moulded metal lion head buttons, (she loved lions!). Marion gave this luxurious coat to Jeffie her daughter following a trip from Paris - It was a gift from Coco.
A stunning painting by Marion of "Ranunculus Flowers", 1971, Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 152 cm.
Chanel 1969 gold and silk magenta suit, shown at Exhibition. Meticulous craftsmanship were hallmarks of her luxurious haute couture garments.

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Michelle | Reply 20.10.2013 04.48

Such an interesting story! Two remarkable inspiring women.

yvonne Ohegarty | Reply 19.10.2013 18.31

Christine really enjoyed reading this, it was so interesting and so well written
well done Lots of love Yvonne xxx

Nuala Kiely | Reply 19.10.2013 14.55

Fascinating people.... A great read. Thanks Sissy xx

Sissy 19.10.2013 16.28

Thank you Nu, my faithful one. xx

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