Mademoiselle and the white camellia

The legendary French fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, born in 1883, open her first clothes shop in 1910. In the 1920s, she launched her first perfume, and later, the “Chanel suit” and the “little black dress”. Almost 50 years since her death, Chanel remains a style immortal, known for simple, sophisticated outfits, paired with great accessories. 

Gabrielle Chanel

Chanel’s designs were revolutionary, borrowing elements of men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of current fashions, which at that time demanded the “corseted silhouette”. Since the 1920’s the camellia has featured heavily in Chanel designs. The white camellia worn against a little black dress is an enduring signature image of the House of Chanel.

Single white Camellia

Gabrielle Chanel fell in love with the camellia after reading Alexandre Dumas’ ‘La Dame aux Camélias’, a story in which the heroine wore a white camellia to signal the purity of her heart. Gabrielle preferred the camellia’s sobriety to the opulence of the rose, as well as its almost geometric roundedness and the classic ordering of its petals in a perfect symmetry. Fortuitously, the camellia’s lack of fragrance meant it never interfered with Chanel’s famous perfumes. The young Gabrielle Chanel was often seen wearing the flower, as evidenced by photographs dating back to 1913.

Young Gabrielle Chanel wearing a white camellia brooch on her belt

Chanel’s beloved flower endures in House of Chanel designs today- for instance, camellia brooches in various fabrics, embossed designs on leather handbags, as decoration on sunglasses, and in the luxurious Camélia jewellery collection.

A recent famous example is Karl Lagerfeld’s stupendous 2005 wedding dress, made from hundreds of fabric camellias.

House of Chanel-Lagerfeld Camellia Wedding Dress

Sadly, Chanel’s camellias are a bit above my price range, and I don’t get to browse in shops like these…

Chanel store in Monaco

Luckily I have a garden in a climate quite well suited to growing camellias!

There are four species of camellia, with the japonica species being the inspiration for the Chanel camellia. Some Camellia japonica varieties which closely resemble the Chanel camellia are ‘Nuccio’s Gem’, ‘Gold Tone’ and ‘Lovelight’.

Camellia japonica “Nuccio’s Gem”

Nuccio’s Gem is a formal double, with clean white flowers. For me this is utter floral perfection!

Camellia japonica “Gold Tone”

Gold tone’s flowers are in the “anemone” form, large, white with yellow stamens. The petals are arranged in tiers and form a very neat flower.

Camellia japonica “Lovelight”

Lovelight has beautiful, large, semi-double white flowers with heavy petals borne mid season.

As Coco Chanel said “The best things in life are free…

The second best things are very expensive”.

House of Chanel’s 2019 winter collection, launched in January, is designed around the simple elegance of the camellia flower. In this collection, the motif, crafted mainly in white gold, is designed into new rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, which are paved or set with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and quartz, each incorporating a version of the perfect camellia flower.

The Chanel Rouge Incandescent necklace, 2019 Winter Collection

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I wish I could grow camellias, but they are a bit temperamental for me…or I am not a good enough gardener!!

  2. tonytomeo says:

    ‘Purity’ was supposedly ‘the’ camellia. It is an old fashioned cultivar. When we got our stock plants from Nuccio’s back in about 1996, I asked for single ‘Purity’ and got ten! I did not intend to grow them, but with so many stock plants, we added them to production. They are surprisingly popular, and many clients are just as surprised that we grow it as I was that Nuccio’s was able to send us ten stock plants!

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      How interesting- I’ll have to check that one out. 🙂

      1. tonytomeo says:

        Well, you may find it to be unimpressive compared to modern cultivars. I just happen to like it because it is so simple and so traditional.

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