By and  on April 29, 2005

NEW YORK — The Chanel exhibition, which officially opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next Thursday, isn’t a retrospective. Instead, it offers a glimpse of the creative dialogue between the French house’s two icons, founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who died in 1971, and Karl Lagerfeld, who joined the house in 1983.

Take, for instance, juxtaposed quotes from both that pepper the exhibition space and only serve to exemplify the duo’s kindred spirit.

“When one reads Chanel’s and Karl’s quotes, there is the same kind of astute and acerbic quality to them,” explained Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute, on a walk-through Thursday afternoon. “Sometimes they disagree, but that is the nature of strong personalities.”

The show features 23 LeCorbusier-like modules. Twenty display clothing vignettes and three are devoted to video installations, from camellias to abstract images of Marilyn Monroe holding onto a Chanel No.5 perfume bottle. These cubic modules are placed progressively in a grid, though they do not adhere to a chronological order. Displayed vignettes mix pieces designed by Chanel and Lagerfeld, and are arranged by themes such as silks, sequins and ribbons.

“We wanted to make a statement that this exhibit is not a retrospective, but it is really intended to be a conversation with the present and the past,” Koda said.

Lagerfeld, for his part, balks at the term retrospective, and he is a harsh critic of self-congratulation. Instead, he said the key message from the exhibition is the longevity of the French fashion house, for which he has been designing successfully for more than 20 years.

The Chanel exhibit is situated in a space usually reserved for temporary exhibits on the museum’s ground floor rather than in the lower-ground Costume Institute space. Koda put the exhibit together with Chanel; Lagerfeld; associate curator Andrew Bolton; creative consultant Olivier Saillard, a curator for the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris, and Marie Maillard, who did the video installations. It is sponsored by Chanel and Condé Nast Publications and runs May 5-Aug. 7.

Chanel famously liberated women from the stiffness of corsets by inventing sporting-specific clothes and eventually jackets, blouses and sailor shirts

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