At the beginning of 2017, the house of Chanel declared it to be the year of its fearless, groundbreaking founder Gabrielle Chanel, the fashion designer who blazed a trail in the annals of history with her maverick spirit and refusal to conform to rigid societal norms.
Similarly inspired by Chanel, Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore has collaborated exclusively with award-winning writer Amanda Lee Koe on a six-part short story series exploring key themes in the fashion icon’s life: her style, her daring, her loves, her friendships, her beauty and her obsession with the mystical.
In this debut vignette, the author delves deep into Gabrielle Chanel’s ragamuffin childhood in the convent of Aubazine in rural France, before skipping ahead to her heyday in chic Paris, to look for origins and clues unlocking her design thinking behind the iconic 2.55 bag. Catch up with all our short stories here.
O MON JÉSUS
PARDONNE-NOUS NOS PÉCHÉS
PRÉSERVE-NOUS DU FEU DE L’ENFER
it is five minutes to three.
you are unwashed, on your knees. you have been repeating
the rosary prayers as punishment for the hour almost past,
kneeling on broken pinecones brought in from the winter.
the nun wants to know
WHERE WOULD YOU HAVE GONE ANYWAY?
the keys jangle as she removes the chain from her waist.
twice you have received an additional roll of bread for having the
best needlework in the orphanage of the sacred heart of mary in
aubazine. with your clever hands you took the keys from the
burnished gold chain on the nun’s waist.
you have heard rumors of a city of lights from the lips of the
older girls. they say the city was named for the man who tried to
steal helen of troy from her king. a city that launched a thousand
ships and hearts and faces has no rolling fields or dry wells, only
pavements lit by gasoline lamps and glass-fronted store windows
with fire at the bottom to keep them from fogging up, a gigantic
underground train station, buildings taller than beeches. the
women scent themselves before they step out into the street, if not
with perfume then vanilla essence behind the ears, on the wrists,
necklines built to speak for décolletages, powdered hair. when you
lay yourself down to bed to say your nightly prayers it is not a
hymn it is a toke of breath lighter than soufflé
the nun’s laughter is sharper than a fork. her chain hits your
skin right under the edge of your skirt where it meets your thighs,
you are impressed that a nun has such good aim.
YOU WOULD REACH BETHLEHEM BEFORE YOU REACHED PARIS.
the church bells chime three times, on the hour.
you are late for a tea party in the sixth arrondisement. there
are pearls in your ears, a servant takes your coat. everyone wants a
peek at your summer collection, they kiss you on the cheeks once,
the hostess coos past your shoulder
HOW IS IT EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH BECOMES NEW?
she purses her lips like a bird when she says NOUVEAU.
you have a soft calfskin clutch in one hand and a glass of
bordeaux red in the other. you would like some canapés, the goose
liver pátê has been spread on crouton wafers in the shape of a cross
with a sprinkling of dill, but your hands are full. a man in a tricorn
hat stands in the corner, he is very handsome, he is making a joke
about how smoothly the wine slides down the flesh at the back of
LE PETIT JÉSUS EN CULOTTE DE VELOURS
the women are trilling, holding their fans up to their faces,
it’s the way he says it. he is coming in your direction, someone is
about to make an introduction. very soon he will want to kiss your
knuckles, you will want to keep a hand free. you tip back the wine,
all of it, you move towards the light. you put the clutch between