Friday, November 14, 2008

The Mystery of Chanel

A few weeks ago I spoke with Chanel’s senior team in New York. To me, Chanel is already a Lovemark so these people are in the exhilarating position of keeping that status. With John Galantic, Chanel’s CEO in New York, I also visited the latest in their efforts to show their customers that the love went both ways. It’s the Mobile Art Pavilion. Now located in New York’s Central Park, the Pavilion has been to Hong Kong and Tokyo and will travel to London, Moscow and Paris. It is an extraordinary spectacle. The Pavilion is a true convergence enterprise in the sexy sense of the word. The convergence of art, architecture and design; the convergence of the huge talents of architect Zaha Hadid (Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art and the Vitra Fire Station) and Chanel’s own Karl Lagerfeld; the convergence of public and private with a substantial donation being made to Central Park; the convergence

of 15 artists from Europe, Asia and the Americas; and, of course, the convergence of culture and commerce. Go Yoko!

The first impact of the Pavilion is surprise; it looks as though it has just landed from outer space. It is so other-worldly that its beauty is hard to place. It stands alone in the confines of the familiar park, drawing on childhood memories of the future as well elemental mysteries that stand outside time. Hadid bases most of her work on the landscape, so the folds and shadows she creates feel both familiar and strange. That’s a weird sensation. It could be a shell, a twisted new geometry, a work of high craft or higher art, or none of the above.

It’s not often you get two such hugely creative and successful people as Hadid and Lagerfeld willing or able to collaborate, or a major company so willing to let them at it, so I‘ve been surprised by some of the negative reactions to the Pavilion. The New York Times went so far as to call the project “delusional” and to claim that visitors were tempted to “stray farther and farther from the real world outside”. That’s not what I saw. I saw people perfectly capable of working out that this was a world-class fantasy brought to New York to enchant and entertain them. Its purpose was to showcase the skills of some of our greatest cultural magicians – and to do it inclusively and for free. I saw people’s eyes light up and smiles appear as they wandered through this extraordinary place. They welcomed such a spectacle as an emotional inspiration and a vision of an alternate reality.

When times get tough people want confidence, and they want signs to show them that the human spirit is forever hopeful, forever striving, forever young. The amazing creation of Zaha Hadid and Karl Largerfeld certainly does all three.

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