The Pluie de Cristal (“Crystal Rain”) necklace plays the strength of rock crystal against the delicacy of diamonds
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Decades after she had become a legend for altering women’s minds and wardrobes by crafting silk jersey or wool bouclé into dresses and jackets that perpetually rank high in the pantheon of fashion’s most iconic items, Coco Chanel remained content to live her life quietly amid the few blocks surrounding Paris’ Place Vendôme. Each night she slept at the Hôtel Ritz, which dominates this city square as prominently as the Vendôme Column that stands at its center, then each morning she discreetly slipped out its back entrance to traverse the few dozen steps to her famed atelier at 31 Rue Cambon.

Of course, this daily trek and Chanel’s desire for a low-key existence are details almost as famed as the woman herself. Forty years after her death, Chanel’s life remains a deep well of inspiration, with the Place Vendôme playing a key role in the latest collections to emerge from the fashion house. For one week in July, the label showcased these Fall/Winter debuts, making full use of the romantic imagery of Chanel’s presence in and around the landmark square, while also offering more insight into the dichotomies that drove the designer both personally and professionally.

The latter served as the central theme of the high-jewelry debut that took place at the Chanel Fine Jewelry boutique that sits directly across from the Hôtel Ritz at 18 Place Vendôme. Dubbed Contrastes, the collection of 35 one-of-a-kind pieces highlights the yin and yang Chanel explored throughout her life’s work.

“We wanted to play on another side of Gabrielle Chanel’s legacy, and that is her love of contrast,” explains Benjamin Comar, international director of Chanel Fine Jewelry. “First there is the contrast of materials, pearls and diamonds mixed with rock crystal in some cases; a contrast of textures, rough and very polished; the contrast of color that she loved, namely her use of black and white; and the contrast of shapes which shouldn’t work together, and yet they play together beautifully. There is something for every woman’s pleasure.”

Chanel’s ability to employ seemingly disparate elements to achieve an effect both artful and innovative was only one part of her appeal, says Justine Picardie, author of the just-released Chanel—Her Life (Steidl, $58). “She was the greatest fashion designer of the 20th century, that just goes without saying,” says Picardie, who launched her US book tour in New York in September. “Nobody comes close to Chanel in sheer scope and range; her clothes transcend fashion, from the fact that she freed women from the corset to the little black dress to the use of tweed. But her own story is so archetypal and powerful: a girl who came from nothing, from nowhere, and who ultimately took Paris and the world by storm. Beyond that, for many women their memories of their mothers and grandmothers are wrapped up in Chanel, often in a bottle of Chanel N°5. It’s no wonder she endures.”

Chanel: A Study in Contrasts
As its name implies, Contrastes is rooted in ideas that in theory might fight against one another yet blend masterfully. The Nuage de Glace necklace drips with 409 white cultured pearls and features a centerpiece of a seemingly rough-hewn circle covered in white diamonds totaling eight carats, which is fastened to the pearls via slim hoops encrusted with 181 brilliant-cut black diamonds. The Pluie de Cristal necklace, meanwhile, takes the idea of contrast a step further, with brilliant-cut diamonds embedded in faceted chunks of rock crystal, which are edged in more white diamonds; the piece is finished with a waterfall of white diamonds in a mix of round and emerald cuts.

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