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Coco, 90210

At the new Chanel flagship store in Beverly Hills, high art and fashion converge.

August 19, 2007|Rose Apodaca | Times Staff Writer

FOR a man who claims, "Stores only interest me when I'm shopping," Karl Lagerfeld's new Chanel flagship in Beverly Hills is a high-concept, high-art contradiction.

Like Chanel's Tokyo and Manhattan addresses, this 14,700-square-foot corner shop at Rodeo Drive and Brighton Way channels Coco Chanel's 31 Rue Cambon apartment yet reimagines it in a way she could never have conceived. From the outside, starchitect Peter Marino's gleaming block of an artificial stone called China White, edged in black steel, unmistakably resembles the glossy packaging of Chanel No. 5, still among the best-known and bestselling perfumes.

Breaking up the blinding cube on the Rodeo side is a cast-bronze canopy, marking the entrance of the 2,460-square-foot fine jewelry and watch boutique, boasting its own entrance, a first for Chanel. Another is the blue sapphire-ringed J12 watch on show under glass, for now the only one of its kind, apparently, and inscribed with "Beverly Hills No. 1/1."

Deeper inside, a salon with a fireplace is festooned with a chandelier of fist-sized rock crystals by the Goosens Atelier in Paris, and a torso covered in hand-pressed Sèvres bisque camelias. "It's just like a woman," the Flemish artist Johan Creten said during a walk-through on Monday, having arrived from Paris to oversee installation of his work. He based it on a marble Venus on a mantle at Rue Cambon. "They look fragile but, in fact, are not. They can even be touchable if you know how to get close," he says, with a laugh.

Art and design, commissioned specifically for the four-story space, are at every turn. The London design duo Fredrickson/Stallard jampacked feathers into a glass-box coffee table. There is Iranian-born Y.Z. Kami's oil of Coco. Milan's Paola Pivi created a wall-mounted, dense patch of thousands of pearl strands.

Pearls -- a Chanel basic as essential as the little black dress -- also appear spectacularly oversized in Murano glass, handblown and hand-lined in gold leaf, in a strand 105 feet long and suspended in the second-floor window. The artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, also in from Paris, crafted one without gold for the Hong Kong Chanel. "But the light in L.A. is so golden, so strong. It was the first time I made such a big piece with gold. And it's so extravagant."

With fashion ever more collected as art, the convergence is natural. But Barbara Cirkva, president of Chanel's fashion division in the U.S., points out this is more than good business. "We have a great heritage when it comes to supporting not only art, but contemporary artists," she says. Mademoiselle Chanel, after all, collaborated with Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky and, on more than a few occasions, kept Jean Cocteau from becoming homeless.

Certainly, art prevails in the customized wall treatments, the silk carpeting and leather upholstery suggesting Chanel's signature tweed, and the gold-washed UltraLuxe area, another first, showcasing the most precious and limited of baubles and bags.

As Coco herself once said: "Fashion is architecture: It is a matter of proportions." Or, in this case, extremes.


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