Flowers of Fashion: Chanel’s Camellia The first in a series of connections between floras and fashion

The camellia flower of House Chanel has become one of one the most iconic emblems in fashion history. It was a fated relationship it would seem, as when arranged in a curve, the rounded petals of the camellia form a clear C-shape, and has been utilized numerously by Chanel to depict its infamous logo of two interlocking C’s. The short-blooming flower originated in Eastern and South-eastern Asia and is often referred to ‘the rose of winter’, as it blooms during the colder months. Forever a season ahead, Chanel’s message to the fashion world seems clear. However, a softer, more romantic history exists between the fashion powerhouse and its beloved emblem.

A symbol of desire and devotion, the House’s founder, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel first became enamoured with the flower at age thirteen, when she saw Sarah Bernhardt’s performance in Lady of the Camellias. The love between flower and fille truly bloomed however years later, when she received a bouquet of camellias from Arthur ‘Boy’ Chapel. A polo-player born in England, he would become both Chanel’s lover and muse. Chapel had a profound influence on Coco Chanel’s designs, as his sartorial style, most notably his blazers, would act as a great source of inspiration for the aesthetic of the Chanel image. Chanel began to incorporate the camellia into every aspect of her life in honour of him. Silk camellias were pinned to the lapels of jackets and fascined in her hair. Her Parisian apartment of 31 Rue Cambon was frequently decorated with bouquets of the flower and remains home to a number of coromandel screens embossed with the blossom as well as a dazzling chandelier embedded with delicate crystalline replicas.

The scentless nature of the camellia was also symbiotic with Chanel, as it would not interfere with her iconic No.5 perfume. The fragrance was launched on May 5th 1921 and much like how the Camellia never loses its leaves, No.5 has withstood the test of time and season, still proving a popular choice almost 100 years later. In her designs, Chanel adapted the widespread menswear trend of wearing a camellia in your suit jacket for womenswear, by first adding a camellia accessory to the belts of one her dresses in 1923. The iconic flower became her lucky charm in fashion as her success soared, but it didn’t prove as fortunate in love as Chapel never remained faithful to her. Their love affair spanned nine years, even after Chapel married Lady Diana Wyndham, an English aristocrat, in 1918. The relationship was to end in calamity on December 21st 1919. Chapel was killed in a car accident while reportedly on his way to visit Chanel during the Christmas holidays. Struck by grief, the heartbroken Chanel is quoted as saying: ‘his death was a terrible blow to me. In losing Chapel, I lost everything’.

To this day, the House honours the romance of the Mademoiselle’s personal life by showcasing the camellia in numerous designs, one of the most iconic being the Chanel Bride wedding dress formed entirely out of appliqued camellias for the Chanel Couture Fall/Winter show of 2005. The shape of the blossom has been transformed into jewellery such as in the Chanel Camelia Collection, which features broaches, rings and necklaces of 18K white gold and diamonds. Watches like the Chanel Caliber 2 take a technological approach as the internal skeletonized bridges connect to form the shape of camellia petals. The flower has even made an appearance in the brand’s makeup range, with their ‘Camelia de Chanel’ illuminating powder released in January of this year. Over time appeal of the camellia has refused to wilt and will continue to stand as a reminder of the triumph and tragedy of the life of Coco Chanel and her lover Boy Chapel.

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