Chanel Mobile Art in Central Park: Lagerfield encapsulated

Karl Lagerfeld and Zara Hadid

Karl Lagerfeld, the visionary designer of Chanel, and I are friends. OK–acquaintances. Fine–I saw him in his gleaming grey Rolls turn down Park as he was popping a breath mint or pill a few weeks ago. It was definitely him, or an aged Billy Idol. Lagerfeld’s an avant-garde personality that has withstood the test of time in the fashion world, and his militant determination to design for Chanel brings up parallels with Coco Chanel’s determination to create the brand. Forward-thinking, self aggrandizing, and involving the most talented artists and architect of the day, Lagerfeld created an environment that even made me, with my aversion to overt labelling, want to stamp myself all over with double Cs. This mobile unit has come from Hong Kong and will be off to Europe after New York, to celebrate the classic Chanel Handbag. Artists contributed 18 pieces inspired by the bag.

Structure first: Zara Hadid’s designed the travelling capsule, which is rather like the traditional white spaceship, except placed over heat so that it gets melty and starts to bow and bend with soft curves. Versatile, functional and interesting in a way that still allowed one to consider it background. A light achievement, and I do love the sinuous curves.

The tour: Those black and white-suited attendants graciously set up your headphones for the 35 minute audio tour, of sorts. Coco herself directs your experience, as she takes you room by room and step by step through the installations. Her voice, by husky-voiced French actress and vocalist Jeanne Moreau, is more personality driven commentary that clarifies how the art relates to Chanel. Sometimes it is difficult to know. She is clever and naughty, and reminded me of the portrayal for her in that recent Lifetime movie. I wish all museums had such atmospheric tours–she really made you pause and see each work.

As for the art, I loved all of it. The artists and styles varied widely, though none were exactly unknowns. There were more Asian artists than I normally see. Favorites include Erlich’s “Le Trottoir” installation is a cyclically-changing contemplative Parisian cityscape reflected in a puddle on black asphalt, so that one views the 2 foot floor level viewing space from standing height. “Fifty Years After our Common Era, or Handbags’ Revolt” by the Blue Noses features cardboard boxes containing projected films of naked women of all sizes chasing after, bodyboarding on, and beating each over the heads with Chanel handbags.

Perhaps Coco and Lagerfeld have much in common. Both fashion of themselves an iconic presence, and exude ruthless self-determination. Highly successful, they never give up or let go. I also extrapolate that a shared controlling trait is on view here. Lagerfeld’s staff had the uniforms of an severely chic SWAT team, and exquisite customer care. No images were allowed inside, cell phones had to be turned off, and all bags were checked at the door. On their website, you can watch live video footage of the site. Coco’s voice dominates your every movement, and remember that the 2.55 handbag she designed for herself is not only iconic, it has several secret compartments.

I could say much about the confluence of art, fashion, culture, globalization and commercialization that this exhibition epitomizes so well. However, I refrain. I enjoyed it: some things are meant only to be consumed with gusto.

Getting in: Tickets (free) are all booked. If you show up early in morning, you can wait standby for tickets. It’s worth it! Ignore any snark on my part: this is one of the best art orchestrations I’ve seen. I showed up a 8:30 this morning. A ticket wasn’t available until 9:30, which didn’t work for my schedule. I was leaving, disappointed, but I ran into a friend on the way out, and he hooked me up with a sooner ticket. And no, it wasn’t Karl.

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