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Chanel Exhibit Sets Up House in Russia

The much-anticipated "Chanel: According to the Laws of Art" exhibit opens here Thursday at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art, bringing together an estimated 400 artworks, photographs, dresses and other memorabilia from across the globe.

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MOSCOW — The much-anticipated “Chanel: According to the Laws of Art” exhibit opens here Thursday at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art, bringing together an estimated 400 artworks, photographs, dresses and other memorabilia from across the globe.

The exhibit — including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, photographs by Man Ray and dresses, pieces of jewelry and images of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Jackie Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and others — seeks to educate Russian consumers about the brand and tap into the booming Russian market, Chanel global chief executive officer Maureen Chiquet said.

She declined to go into detail about the company’s plans for the former Soviet Union, saying only: “Russia is a very important market. We’re looking at all different opportunities throughout Russia and throughout Ukraine.”

The exhibit on the museum’s cavernous second floor is divided into five pavilions, fitting for the maker of Chanel No.5 perfume. Each pavilion has its own scent and its own theme — red, black, gold lamé, jersey and tweed — and is cordoned off from adjoining galleries by white walls stretching 15 feet or higher. The pavilions, festooned with Cubist art, priceless necklaces and color photographs of some of the world’s most famous women donning Chanel dresses, contrast sharply with the museum’s neoclassical interior, with its fluted columns and Corinthian capitals.

Other highlights include artworks by Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and Jeff Koons; icons and a musical score care of Igor Stravinsky; 25 porcelain figurines by the Russian sculptor Grisha Bruskin; a huge, wide-angle photograph of the interior of the Paris Opera taken by Candida Höfer, and a giant canvas painted solid red with lipstick by Fabrice Hyber. Many of the pieces in the show were created long after Coco Chanel’s death in 1971, but convey the timelessness of her designs, curator Jean-Louis Froment said.

The motif that brings together the whole exhibit is the specially installed beige carpet that ascends the grand staircase of the museum and snakes through the second-floor gallery. Chanel, in her early years, was referred to as the Queen of Beige, and her apartment and boutique on Rue Cambon in Paris were famous for having beige carpet.

Froment said the exhibit aims to bring to life that artistic universe on Rue Cambon, a world defined by war, privation — and, later, rebirth — and teeming with painters, poets, playwrights, novelists and musicians who razed all the old assumptions about beauty, form and style.

While Chanel surrounded herself with brilliant musicians and writers, such as Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau, Froment said, she had few painters in her immediate circle. This emphasis on the musical and the literary lends an ethereal, almost intangible beauty to her designs, he said. “She created an entire language.”

Russian officials were said to have raised some concerns about a French fashion company turning one of the country’s leading museums into a set for a fashion show. But once Chanel officials convinced them that they sought to portray the world of Chanel not through fashion, but art, the Russians’ worries were apparently assuaged.

Irina Antonova, the Pushkin Museum’s director, said she had no worries about the show. “She’s a style, not just a fashion, and therefore, really, an artist,” Antonova said of Chanel.

The designer had numerous ties to the Russian émigré community in Paris following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Among the most important romantic relationships in her 87 years, which included no marriage or children, was that with the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. Chanel officials said it was Pavlovich who introduced Chanel to the tsar’s perfumer, Ernest Beaux, who concocted several scents for the budding fashion queen. The first four didn’t quite live up to her exacting standards, but No.5 did.

Chanel officials would not say how much the company paid to put on the elaborate exhibit, which has drawn journalists from Europe and Asia and included a party at the French ambassador’s residence late Tuesday.

The exhibit, which runs through Nov. 21, opens exactly one year after Chanel launched its 3,200-square-foot boutique on Stoleshnikov Pereulok, about a 10-minute walk from Red Square.

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