Night At The Museum.” A short film by Harry Glassborow for GRAZIA and in collaboration with CHANEL. Starring friend of the house Victoria Lee, the heroine sneaks into the “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto” exhibition after hours to marvel at the early works of the iconic designer. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: Danielle Whitfield, a curator of fashion and textiles at the National Gallery of Victoria, recalls the first time she walked through the finished Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto exhibition.

“We know to expect a little black dress, the tweed suit and 2.55 bag,” Whitfield says. “But I think what you don’t necessarily realise until you’ve walked through the entire show is the absolute refinement of the design language, the technical proficiency.”

“You begin to have a deeper understanding of Chanel’s vision; the radical vision for a new kind of feminine elegance, and how she never wavered from that.”

The exhibition – now showing inside the NGV until April 25 – exquisitely highlights Chanel’s pioneering contributions to the history of fashion and the early beginnings of Chanel’s codes: Streamlined simplicity. Ease of movement. The harmony of form of function. Monochrome elegance.

Chanel NGV
Credit: CHANEL

“As you’re walking through the exhibition, you see the codes that you associate with the house start to fall into place so early,” explains Whitfield. “In the 20s and 30s, we’re seeing the repeated use of black, we’re seeing the monochrome, the red, the blue, the gold, and the ivory.”

“By the time you get to the final room, you get a sense of what Chanel strove for, and how she realised it, and that it was always part of this particular singularity of vision.”

But it’s no easy feat sourcing and transporting more than 250 pieces dating from 1910 to 1971 to Australia. Drawn from the Patrimoine de CHANEL, the Palais Galliera, the National Gallery of Victoria collection and various international museums, it was a process Whitfield describes as a “really huge undertaking”. For starters, not all pieces can travel, with some light sensitive works needing to be rested after showing in Paris. For the ones that do make it on board the shipment, the temperature in which they are stored, and then presented, must be perfect.

“Everything is climate controlled. If you’ve been in a gallery for a long time, you’ll noticed that the air is very dry, we control humidity and temperature,” explains Whitfield. “We prevent works from being exposed to light or handled too often. It’s really only when they are being photographed or selected for display that they get disturbed.”

“Once a work comes into a museum collection, it’s treated as an artwork,” she continues. “The white gloves go on, and we think about how it needs to be stored. Some pieces can hang very safely in a wardrobe on a padded hanger, other pieces need forms created to take the weight when a work is hanging. For example, a heavily beaded dress.”

Chanel NGV
Credit: CHANEL

As previously noted, to truly experience the Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto exhibition once – to truly get a sense of who she was and how this translated into her work – you need to see it twice.

“I think the thing that is most surprising for people is there is always a paradox: there’s the sober austerity and restraint [of Chanel’s designs], but there’s that opulence and ostentation of the jewellery,” notes Whitfield. “ I think the jewellery room in the exhibition [Part 7: In Praise Of Adornment] is probably going to surprise people. You see the richness of the language.”

“Every time you walk through the show, you find a new favourite.”

Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto is the first retrospective exhibition devoted to the work of Gabrielle Chanel in Australia after it premiered at the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris in 2020. Now showing at the National Gallery of Victoria until April 25, 2022. For tickets, see here.

Videographer: Harry Glassborow
Fashion Director: Kim Payne
Art Director: Kimberlee Kessler
Editorial Director: Jessica Bailey
Hair and Makeup Artist: Julie Provis / Hart and Co
Model: Victoria Lee / Priscillas
With thanks to CHANEL

FASHION CREDITS: Lee wears CHANEL Resort 2022. BEAUTY CREDITS: CHANEL Vitalumière 07 Ivoire SHOP NOW CHANEL Le Crayon Lévres 174 Rouge Tendre SHOP NOW; CHANEL rouge allure 98 coromandel SHOP NOW CHANEL Ombre Première Laque, 39 Lamé Ivoire SHOP NOW CHANEL Dimensions De Chanel, 10 Noir SHOP NOW