Think of fashion icon Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel and what emblem comes to mind? The linked CC logo? Perhaps the white camellia bloom that features in much of the label’s fashion and beauty packaging?
If you named either of the above, you’ll probably be as wide-eyed as us to learn that long before it was appropriated by Italian fashion houses like Versace and Gucci, Madmoiselle Chanel’s favourite emblem was that of a lion. Not only was the beast one of her long-time sources of creative inspiration, but it was also her zodiac star-sign and the emblem of her favourite city, Venice.
In 1920, Chanel’s closest friends, Misia and José María Sert invited her to join them on a trip to Venice. She quickly fell in love with the cosmopolitan, creative, Byzantine and Baroque-influenced city. To say it formed a lasting impression on the designer for the remainder of her life is an understatement.
Should we be allowed to rifle through the Chanel vintage archives, we’d find plenty of suits made by Coco herself embellished with lion buttons, big cat high jewellery and bags boasting lion clasps. All her life, the designer kept a small statue of the beast on her desk.
“The lion is a personality, audacious, instinctive, passionate, radiant… I’m a Leo and like him, I show my claws to protect myself,” Madmoiselle once declared of the animal most associated with strength and courage. “But believe me I suffer more by clawing than being clawed.”
Her connection to the beast is what inspired Karl Lagerfeld to construct an enormous Lion statue in the centre of his Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2010 show runway. Many of his models that day were accompanied by statuesque male chaperones wearing maned lion masks.
Understanding this deep heritage makes the release of Chanel’s new Sous Le Du Lion fine jewellery collection on October 1 all-the-more emotive. Eight pieces inspired by the familiar lion of Venice in a mix of lapis blue, astral white, yellow gold and rock crystal are a nod to the winged lion statue in St Mark’s Square, a symbol and patron of La Serenissima, the local nickname for Venice.
The 8-piece Chanel Sous Le Du Lion fine jewellery collection is available from October 1.
See the collection in full below