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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Four times fashion saved history 

Chanel is the latest brand to join the likes of Bulgari, Fendi and Ferragamo, by pledging to make a contribution towards the Grand Palais in Paris 

Chanel Collection Les Cascades at the Grand Palais. Photo by Olivier Saillant
Chanel Collection Les Cascades at the Grand Palais. Photo by Olivier Saillant

Chanel recently announced that it will donate €25 million (Dh114m) towards a renovation of Paris’s Grand Palais. In this, the French fashion giant is following a trend set by its Italian counterparts. A number of leading luxury brands have lent their support to high-profile restoration projects in recent years, after Italy’s government admitted that it was no longer able to afford their upkeep.

Bulgari contributed a reported US$1.7m (Dh6.2m) to help restore Rome’s famed Spanish Steps, best known, perhaps, as the spot where Audrey Hepburn met Gregory Peck in the 1953 classic Roman Holiday.

Spanish Steps in Rome. Italy. Getty Images
Spanish Steps in Rome. Italy. Getty Images

Fendi donated $3.2m for the restoration of the Trevi Fountain and the Quattro Fontane, both in Rome.

Trevi Fountain In Rome, Italy. The country is ripe for activist investors, analysts say. Getty Images
Trevi Fountain In Rome, Italy. The country is ripe for activist investors, analysts say. Getty Images

Florentine fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo donated $817,000 to restore a wing of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. The trend was kick-started by Diego Della Valle, president and CEO of Tod’s, who pledged €25m for a restoration of the Colosseum that was completed in 2016.

Colosseum under construction. Getty Images
Colosseum under construction. Getty Images

When it comes to the latest announcement by Chanel, one imagines that Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, a long-standing patron of the arts, would have been delighted by news that the fashion house she founded is contributing towards a renovation of the Grand Palais.

Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, the historic exhibition hall and museum complex is on Paris’s famed Champs-Élysées. It already shares strong links with the house of Chanel – Karl Lagerfeld has been presenting his ready-to-wear and haute couture collections here since 2005.

As a result, over the years, the building’s impressive nave (which, at 13,500 square metres, is the largest in Europe) has been transformed into a classical Greek amphitheatre, brasserie, shopping centre, airport terminal and even the launch pad for a rocket ship, as part of Lagerfeld’s ever-inventive runway shows. It has played host to covetable clothes and chic celebrities, as well as ice sculptures, wind turbines, waterfalls and even, for Chanel’s autumn/winter 2017 haute couture collection, a statue of the Eiffel Tower.

A replica of the Eiffel Tower for a Chanel show at the Grand Palais. Photo by Olivier Saillant
A replica of the Eiffel Tower for a Chanel show at the Grand Palais. Photo by Olivier Saillant

The dimensions, walkways, decor and original interior lighting of the Grand Palais are all to be restored. A new Rue des Palais will cut through the monument at basement level, becoming a central artery that will connect the complex’s various spaces, which have so far remained isolated from one another. Surrounding areas will also be redesigned.

The project is scheduled to begin in December 2020 and culminate in 2024, with a partial reopening in 2023. “Chanel and the Grand Palais have developed a close bond, which was initiated by Karl Lagerfeld in 2005. For Chanel, the Grand Palais, and especially its exceptional nave where our fashion shows are held, is much more than a simple monument in the heart of Paris. Its remarkable architecture makes it a true source of inspiration and creation for Karl Lagerfeld,” says Bruno Pavlovsky, fashion president of Chanel.

There are many reasons why fashion brands have taken to displaying such altruism. In the instances of the Italian brands, cynics will point to the fact that there were tax breaks to be had. But beyond that, luxury brands benefit from Italy’s glamorous image and have a stake in ensuring that illusion is maintained. Furthermore, Valle has been consistent in his opinion that businesses that are successful have a responsibility to give back to the country where they are based. In many instances, these brands are irretrievably linked to the place where they are headquartered. It is a part of their identity, but also a source of endless inspiration.

“I am truly inspired when I get home and I look at the colours of Rome – the colours are so special, from the sky to the buildings to the architecture. Rome is an open museum. I can go around a corner, and maybe I’ve done it a million times before, but I’ll see something new and I’ll think – that could be a motif for a pair of earrings. So Rome, for me, is fundamental,” says Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari’s creative director for jewellery.

The fate of this historic brand is inseparable from the fabric of the city – which is why it paid so much to spruce up those 135 steps.

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