Text by Fiammetta Cesana

The most visited French castle after Versailles, Château des Dames tells a 500-years-long story of legendary women, like Katherine Briçonnet, Diana di Poitiers, Caterina de’ Medici, Louise de Lorraine, Gabrielle d’Estrées and Louise Dupin, who made the castle a timeless reign of female courage, resilience and wonderful taste. Located in the Centre Val de Loire over the Cher river, Château de Chenonceau, named also Château des Dames (castle of the ladies) for its defining succession of mistresses since early XVI century, today reaches a new enchanting female connotation and turns into the ‘château of mademoiselles’ hosting the latest Maison Chanel’s collection. 

As every year since 2002, in December, Mademoiselle Gabrielle’s maison presents a collection dedicated to the Métiers d’art, blending the vision of the creative direction – today led by Virginie Viard, kaiser Lagerfeld’s successor – and the work of art’s masters. From Lesage embroiderers, Lemarié feather specialists, to Desrues bijoux craftsmen, Lognom pleating experts, Massaro shoe craftsmen, till maison Michel dressmakers and Causse Gantier gloves artisans… This prêt-à-porter collection 2020/21 wants to celebrate the savoir-faire of Parisian, French and Italian craftsmen. More than 60 looks worn by the new ladies of the castle – Chanel’s as sophisticated as punkish models – take over the royal catwalk in a 11-minutes film, whose unique spectator is the brand’s ambassador Kirsten Stewart, standing up at the end to applaud to the interlaced narrations of Virginie Viard. 

So what bonds the immortality of art, the elegance of Chanel, with the Château de Chenonceau so intensely?

In the second half of the 16th century, on the death of her husband King Henry II, Caterina de’ Medici became the castle’s owner, after it remained for years under the influence of Diana Poiters, the king’s official lover. Cateria de’ Medici, Queen Mother of France of Italian origins, invested large sums in the château to organize receptions and parties. On the occasion of the coronation of his son, Francesco II, she planned the country’s first fireworks spectacle. As evidence of the Renaissance glory that the queen bestowed, also building splendid gardens, numerous inscriptions of her monogram are still visible around the castle: two intertwined Cs strikingly similar to the double C that Gabrielle Chanel presented in 1921 on the Chanel N° 5 perfume cabochon.

Le Dame et Le Mademoiselle_Chanel’s 2020 21 Métiers d’art collection at Château de Chenonceau_Château des Dames_Virginie Viard_Gabrielle Chanel_Caterina de' Medici_Photo Juergen Teller
Château des Dames_Photo Juergen Teller

Both orphans and raised in a convent, the lives of these two historic women though belonging to distant centuries are incredibly close. Either Caterina de’ Medici and Gabrielle Chanel were fond of esoteric mysticism, surrounded by talismans and attracted by the occult meaning of numbers (the planetary famous N° 5 by Chanel was born from the teachings of the nuns in the convent of Aubazine according to which the pentagon represented human destiny). The Dame of Chenonceau and Mademoiselle Chanel also shared an eternal loyalty to the color black, and their witty mind and singular taste for the arts made them patrons for the greatest artists of their time. 

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So, thanks to another talented woman, disciple of the great master Karl Lagerfeld, Virginie Viard, the Château des Dames discovers once again, a few steps from 2021, the beauty of femininity and daring art. The court of models who march under the arches of the 16-century nave is not a crowd of fragile naive girls. It is a team of leading women, different from each other, in looks, in piercings, tattoos, and in silhouettes, lovers of the indissoluble strength of black hues, and who, thanks to the accuracy of the métiers d’art, wear the refinement of the classic in a elegant and edgy vision of fashion, perfectly contemporary.