Intimate Glimpses into the life of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel: Douglas Kirland’s Photographs

“This is a story about who she was, who I was, and how she affected my life.”

-Douglas Kirkland

In 1962, over three weeks, renowned photographer Douglas Kirkland took pictures of the life of Coco Chanel. Only 27 years old at the time, he was taken under Chanel’s wing and guided through all aspects of her life. The young Kirkland had arrived as a junior photographer for Look Magazine, a big picture magazine in the United States. He had come with a fashion editor in order to write a story on Chanel. One week into the project the fashion editor left and Kirkland remained alone with the illustrious elegance of Coco Chanel herself.

While he photographed her she taught him French, history and proper table etiquette. He was also given complete access of the Chanel atelier on Rue Cambon where he witnessed firsthand the private recesses of Chanel’s daily existence. The relationship which soon emerged would influence the course of Kirkland’s career.

During this special period, Karl Lagerfeld once remarked that Coco Chanel was flirting with the young Kirkland. So it seemed, but what she was really doing was helping him to grow up. The photographs remarkably document the relationship between the designer and the photographer. The resulting images capture Coco Chanel in a more intimate light than has ever been previously revealed. Shot in a reportage-style, the series did not make use of posing or lighting. In these pictures Chanel laughs, smiles, chats with friends, and smokes her long thin cigarettes while concentrating on her work.

It was Kirkland’s Parisian wife and agent Francoise who understood the value and rarity of her husband’s photographs of Chanel. In 2008, Kirkland published a book, “Coco Chanel: Three Weeks 1962” followed by another one in 2009 entitled “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel / Summer 62” which was completed with the assistance of Karl Lagerfield.

Douglas Kirland’s rare and intimate photographs of Chanel are now on view at the Galerie Basia Embiricos in Paris through March 3rd, 2010

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