Looking at Coco Chanel’s revolutionary liberalism, Harriet Charity Verney and Phoebe Collings-James explore the tenuous relationship between the industries of art and fashion.

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Black leather sock boots with patent toe by CHANEL COUTURE (worn throughout) 

Taken from the Summer issue of Wonderland:

Today, Phoebe Collings-James is a model, gracing Wonderland’s fashion pages clad in current-season Chanel couture. Tomorrow, she’ll be back in her studio on Chancery Lane, painting, drawing, drowning her assistant in plaster of Paris and writing for her feminist blog, “Cunt Today.” To say she has her fingers in many ink-pots is an understatement. An agent once said to her, “It’s difficult with you, because we don’t know whether you want to be an artist or a model.” SO difficult.

Feminist leanings, strong kinships with the art world, mind-expanding couture: there’s a lot to love about Chanel, and for one, Collings-James is a fan. When Coco Chanel attended one of the first performances of composer Stravinsky’s play The Rites of Spring, a near riot broke out at the score’s radical dissonance. The public were in uproar, assuming they were being made a mockery of. “He’s dramatic,” Collings-James says of Stravinsky. “There is an undercurrent of violence in the most delicate of his works that makes them so incredible.”

It seems apt, then, that Strav’s revolutionary peer and alleged lover Chanel collaborated with him on a production of The Rites Of Spring by the Ballet Russes, taking the role of costume designer and creating woven sports skirts for it. Up until that point, save for lace-ups and boned corsets, sportswear simply wasn’t created for women. Later, liaisons and collaborations with surrealist painter Picasso would ensue and Chanel’s memoirs, The Allure Of Chanel, were written by her close confidante and imagist Paul Morand. Chanel made flirtations with the artworld an important, frequent diary fixture. “I feel like things were more fluid then,” says Collings-James. “All the creative people drank together. Music, art and fashion were all at a peak, drawing from the same cultural ideas and politics.”

Is the intrinsic shallowness of the fashion world – a commercially-driven industry that skips hand-in-hand with trends, fads and money-makers – the reason why the art world scrunches their noses up at it, at times? Coco Chanel was a liberator; not just in her forward-thinking explorations of the female silhouette, but in her ability to moonlight and cross over into different industries, without fault or concern for what was expected of her. From working on film sets for MGM, to financing the monthly, ultra- nationalist and anti-republican newsletter Le Témoin, there weren’t many avenues she daren’t explore.

Is there a larger or smaller gap between fashion and art now and their apparent turbulent relationship? Have the boundaries between the two been broken down or built up since the supposed Golden Age of contemporary couture? “As art continues to become more involved with the economic market, I think many artists who want to keep a distance between their work and its economy do not want to be associated with fashion,” Collings-James says. “When actually at their worst, art and fashion are as shallow as each other and at their best they both hold a significant and vital role.”

The artists that surrounded Chanel helped propel her from a rising couturier to a global brand and businesswoman. Not just a woman who made pretty dresses, basically. Was she accepted into this elite because she was the model example of a revolutionary and exciting to be around, or because she was a kind of intellectual freak? A woman who dared to speak and think “aloud” as she put it, rather than render herself a mute? “For better or worse, the concept of an elite has now dissolved and there is so much shit around it can be hard to define the truly talented artists or designers of the world, let alone get them in one room,” Collings-James comments. In the same way that Chanel destroyed the boundaries parting art and fashion, Collings-James is free to dip into both worlds. And the more people question her work, the more she’ll succeed at it.

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White embroidered bustier dress with white and ecru silk tulle petals by CHANEL COUTURE 

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Multicoloured short top embroidered with flowers in organza, chiffon, silk tulle, sequins and glass beads, green straight skirt in origami pleated green organza, and black leather sock boots with patent toe by CHANEL COUTURE 

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Magnolia ribbon tweed jacket with fringed hems and matching fringed tweed skirt, red patent and silver leather with rhinestone buckle and loops by CHANEL COUTURE 

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Pink embroidered sleeveless dress with chiffon and silk flowers by CHANEL COUTURE 

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Navy sleeveless chiffon top with flat-stitched and fluted pleats worn with matching layered long skirt by CHANEL COUTURE 

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Multicoloured hooded organza bolero with flowers made of feathers worn over white embroidered bustier dress with white and ecru silk tulle petals by CHANEL COUTURE 

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Pink embroidered organza coat with quilted silk bottom embroidered with multicoloured organza, rhodoid, chiffon and silk flowers, worn with a matching sleeveless dress and pink bonnet with veil, in knitted silk embroidered with sequins by CHANEL COUTURE 

Photographer: Jesse John Jenkins

Fashion Editor: Madeleine Østlie

Make Up: Michelle Dacillo using CHANEL S 2015 and CHANEL BODY EXCELLENCE

Hair: Jose Quijano at D&V Vitalumière in 50 Naturel, Soleil Tan De Chanel, Le Blanc De Chanel, Crayon Sourcils in 40 Brun Cendrè, illusion D’Ombre in 85 Miritfigue and 97 New Moon, Le Blush Crème De Chanel in 61 Destiny, Rouge Coco Shine in 89 Satisfaction, Le Vernis in 625 Secret

Model: Phoebe Collings-James at Premier Artists


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