A creative genius, visionary and socialite, Coco Chanel was also a private woman and devoted friend. Here we take a look back on her romance with the Principality, which really was love at first sight…
It all started in dire straits: in 1923, ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev put the production of ‘The Rite of Spring’ on hold due to a lack of funds. Gabrielle Chanel, known today by her alias, Coco, learnt of the misfortune and gave Diaghilev a cheque so he could continue with the venture. Her one condition? That her generosity should remain a complete secret.
Having become a silent patron of the Ballets Russes, Coco Chanel’s visits to the Principality became more and more frequent, and she gradually became more and more captivated by Monaco’s charm. She mixed with Cocteau, Reverdy, Dalí and even Visconti, and led a life as a socialite at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo.
In 1924, Coco Chanel designed the costumes for the ballet ‘Le Train Bleu’, scored by Darius Milhaud, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska and based on a story by Jean Cocteau. These costumes, which ranged from swimsuits to sportswear, paid tribute to the summertime and the fun of the seaside.
Ever the visionary, this is the story of how Coco Chanel launched “summer season” fashion, years before it really took off: a fashion that Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer was to embrace in 1928 by building its ode to the Mediterranean: the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel.
Photo © Monte-Carlo SBM archives: Gabrielle Chanel and Christian Bérard
In the same year of 1928, the fashion designer had a villa built high in the La Torraca area of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, which she named La Pausa. It was a superb, Mediterranean-style home surrounded by a vast garden and century-old olive trees. In addition to her closest artist friends, she also received influential politicians there such as Winston Churchill.
Season after season, Coco Chanel left her mark on Monaco, and the essence of her lingers on at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo and the Salle Garnier at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo.
Photo © Monte-Carlo SBM archives: Gabrielle Chanel and Count Sala
Time passes, but some things don’t change. Karl Lagerfeld, the House of Chanel’s iconic designer for more than 30 years, was one of those to find in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin a haven of peace. He regularly stayed at the Villa La Vigie, overlooking the bay of Monaco, even giving it his own personal touch. Today there remain two mirrors by Philippe Starck and a trompe-l’oeil wall, souvenirs left behind by the illustrious resident.
In 2021, two years after Karl Lagerfeld’s death, Chanel chose to shoot its Spring-Summer collection at the Villa La Vigie. Its new muse was no other than Charlotte Casiraghi, a close friend of the German designer for many years thanks to a shared love of literature. In the same year, this young woman also presided over the “Rendez-vous littéraires rue Cambon”, literary events launched by the House of Chanel with the theme of women’s emancipation.
So when Chanel then chose the Monte-Carlo Beach to present its cruise collection for 2023, it was not by chance. On the contrary, it was further proof of the strong ties that have been woven between the fashion house and the principality. As was Charlotte Casiraghi’s appearance on the catwalk for Chanel on her horse Cusco, at the Grand Palais in Paris. A magical moment.