As ‘Second Floor’ opens at the Saatchi Gallery, prized filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson talks photographing Coco Chanel’s house
Second Floor No. 5 Chandelier 1
Bad things come in threes. So goes the common saying of the western world, or folklorists, or the bodega boy when spare change falls from your pocket unknowingly. But for Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel – a woman who introduced jersey as an elegant fabric for daywear, trousers for les femmes sauntering la promenade de la Côte d’Azur and hands free handbags – it’s good things that triple up.
Prized filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson recently photographed Coco’s space at 31 Rue Cambon for Second Floor, an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery that will open on September 12. During the shoot, Taylor-Johnson was entranced by the couplings she found in Coco’s home: lovers, lovebirds, and Japanese deer that had been left to their own devices since Coco’s death in 1971. Her home has never been openly showcased to the public,
“As I went about photographing items, it became a study with many layers,” Taylor-Johnson explains. “There was clearly a strong mystical and spiritual aspect to [Coco’s] life, with the crystal ball, the Buddha, and the crucifix, as well as her intense love for Boy Capel. These ‘couplings’ showed a sense of love, loss and unity. Every object seemed to have been chosen not for the sake of the design, but for its tangible qualities. They felt very sensuous, like they had been touched and held frequently over time.”
Coco Chanel had a lot to say about what to do when leaving the house (“Once you’ve dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.”) but what would she have said of her own home? Dating back to the 18th century, the streets in this part of Paris were built after the French Revolution. Coco purchased 31 Rue Cambon in 1918 and allotted floors to suit her needs: the boutique was on the ground floor, while the large reception room on the first floor was used to present her collections. A mirrored stairwell led to her residence, and on the third floor above was her studio, which Karl Lagerfeld works from today.
Famed for her portraits of well-known personalities, Taylor-Johnson went into the project unsure of her capability to photograph such a famed interior. “I went into the apartment full of trepidation,” she says. “I did not research in advance. I thought, ‘Why not just go and do it?’ Sometimes, if you look at past images like the legendary Horst portrait of Coco Chanel in the chair, those photographs influence you. I went in as a blank slate.”
The exhibition ‘Second Floor’ will opens at the Saatchi Gallery today September for 10 days (until 22nd September). In total 34 images of Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment by Sam Taylor-Johnson will be on display.
Second Floor Staircase 2
Second Floor Sofa
Words: Emma Louise-Tovey