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GABRIELLE "COCO" CHANEL'S personal wardrobe and a casket of her costume jewelry were recently sold in the sedate sale rooms of Christie's in King Street, St. James, London, preceded by a champagne reception and glittering fashion show in front of a distinguished audience numbering 1,500 people from many parts of the world. Living models displayed the personal wardrobe comprised of forty suits, complimented by forty-four pieces of her specially made "junk" jewelry for which she inspired a fashion.
The collection had been assembled by Madame Lilian Grumbach, a close colleague of Madamoiselle Chanel during the last fourteen years of her life. Museum staff, dealers, public figures, costume collectors and wealthy enthusiasts bid in competition with each other for these original designs from the famous Chanel's own collection of clothing and jewelry. This remarkable woman, orphaned at an early age, worked with her sister in Deauville, France, where she eventually opened a shop in 1912. After a brief spell of nursing in the 1914- 1918 World War, she founded a couture house in the Rue de Cambon in Paris, where she worked for the rest of her life. Her success was fantastic, especially after she introduced a perfume under her own name that is now world-famous as "Chanel No. 5." She always considered five was her lucky number, and showed her collections on February 5th and August 5th each year.
In the 1920s, Chanel sensed a profound need for change in fashion which was sweeping the world in the post 1914 war years. She first accomplished her object of liberating women from tight corsetting, and she succeeded in giving fashion a casual but elegant look by her simplicity of design and unique use of fabric. These plain styles were worn with several rows of fake pearls-a fashion she originated. She also launched the vogue for costume jewelry, much of which was so magnificent that it was said that had it been composed of real jewels it would have been "suited" to a Ranee's jewel box.
This costume jewelry was created for Chanel by some of the best designers in France, and she intended it to be worn blatantly on tweeds and for daytime wear, unlike the real jewels worn by the wealthy only on gala occasions and for evening wear. Chanel started the fashion for gold and bead chains, charm bracelets and jeweled belts, often combining junk jewelry with real jewels on plain garments.
Some of the designers of these fake jewels were skilled and famous, as for example, the Duc de Verdura and Count Etienne de Beaumont. Many of their designs were made in very limited numbers, and some pieces were signed, which has now turned them into collectors' pieces.
While Mademoiselle Chanel possessed some fine real jewelry, she preferred many of the fake pieces shown ir our illustrations-especially her favorite costum: jewelry brooch.
Her first Post-World War Two collection in 1954, cortinued from where she had left off, featured cardigar. suits, short chiffon and lace dresses, and masses of "junk" jewelry. Rich and famous women all over the world adopted the "Chanel look."
In 1957, Chanel won the American Nieman-Marcus Award for Fashion; but even without this an other official recoginitions, he continuing influence was worldwide as a designer and leader of fashion. Undoubtedly she founded the public taste for costume jewlery as we know it today. Others followed her lead, and many excellent designers and craftsmen whose work is currently collectible will certainly be producing interesting antiques of the future.