After years of operating out of a 2,000-foot store in the Taj hotel on Newbury Street, Chanel this week opened a store across the street quintupling the space to 10,000 square feet and giving Boston the fourth largest Chanel store in the country.
“It’s an important market for us,” said Chanel fashion division president Barbara Cirkva as she gave a tour of the comfortably elegant new space. “The store was doing very well.”
“But obviously there was a ceiling on it,” added Boston native John Galantic, president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc. “There was only so much we could do in a limited space.”
Talks to move the store to 6 Newbury St. began more than three years ago. Construction on the interior of the store began six months ago. It was designed by superstar architect Peter Marino, who has worked on several Chanel stores, in addition to boutiques for Dior, Calvin Klein, Ermenegildo Zegna, as well as Giorgio Armani’s apartment and Valentino’s private yacht.
Cirkva describes the new Boston store as a true “Maison de Chanel” townhouse, with enough space to accommodate separate departments for accessories, shoes, and ready-to-wear. The space is filled with references to Coco Chanel’s rue Cambon Paris apartment. A Swarovski-encrusted deer by artist Mark Swanson sits by the fireplace, a tribute to the bronze deer in Chanel’s apartment. A piece by Liza Lou, called “Gather,” is two sheaves of wheat made of individual strands of beads. Wheat, a symbol of prosperity, was a recurring theme in Chanel’s apartment.
More references to Chanel can be seen in Donald Baechler’s camellia sculpture and Nancy Lorenz’s hand-painted screens, a modern take on the Coromandel screens in the rue Cambon apartment. Custom sofas are upholstered in Chanel tweed, and artists have created one-of-a-kind chairs and tables.
But what seems like an obvious Coco Chanel reference — a 20-foot-high strand of cascading glass beads — is not a Chanel homage. French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, who was in Boston for the opening of the store this week, has been working with these hand-blown, large-scale glass beads in his creations for the past 15 years.
“Peter [Marino] chose my work because he has this feeling that it’s linked to the pearls that Coco Chanel was known so well for wearing, but the inspiration comes from my own fantasy,” Othoniel said. “I feel like I’m sort of living this double life. I’m working in the worlds of fashion and art.”
This is not the Paris-based Othoniel’s first foray into creating art in Boston. Two years ago he was an artist-in-residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In 2015, the Gardner will stage an exhibition of his work. He also noted that he won an international design competition to create a permanent outdoor installation at the Palace of Versailles as a result of finding a rare book at the Boston Public Library.
“I discovered this book, ‘Art of Describing Dance’ by Raoul-Auger Feuillet here,” he said, referring to the book published in 1701. “That directly influenced the water sculptures that I’m making for Versailles.”
Othoniel’s glass beads sit comfortably between Chanel accessories and ready-to-wear goods in the store, but what he sees when he looks at it is a reference to the flow and imperfections of the human body. Nevertheless, it sits as a glittering centerpiece of a space filled with hand-set crystal tiles, thick carpets, and walls of Venetian plaster.