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How about an €8m Chanel makeover? Paris fashion museum reopens with help of luxury brand

Palais Galliera opens its doors during a hybrid physical and digital Paris fashion week with a major Chanel exhibition

Palais Galliera, the City of Paris fashion museum, is reopening after a two-year revamp © Geoffroy Ménabréa

Against a backdrop of rising Covid-19 infection rates in France, the City of Paris fashion museum is reopening on 1 October with a major Chanel exhibition after two years of renovations. Palais Galliera has doubled in capacity, after new exhibition galleries were created in the previously unused red brick-and-stone vaulted cellars.

The €8m revamp is also sponsored by the luxury fashion house, with the new underground spaces named Galeries Gabrielle Chanel. The inaugural exhibition, Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto (1 October-14 March 2021), is dedicated to the celebrated couturier and how her chic style—from little black dresses to braided tweed suits—revolutionised women’s fashion in the 20th century.

Asked about the timing of the reopening, which follows the cancellation of Fiac art fair due to European travel restrictions but coincides with a hybrid physical and digital Paris fashion week, Palais Galliera’s director Miren Arzalluz says it remains “primordial that museums pursue their role of transmitting heritage”. In accordance with government guidelines, visitors must pre-book admission online. “The reopening is highly anticipated and is even more necessary in this context: culture enables the crisis to be surmounted,” Arzalluz says.

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel in her apartment at the Ritz for Harper’s Bazaar, Paris © Ministère de la Culture – Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / François Kollar

Chanel’s sponsorship reinforces the relationship between fashion and luxury brands and the French cultural sector. Chanel is also contributing €25m towards the €466m cost of restoring the Grand Palais from 2021 to 2024.

Given the impact of the pandemic on the luxury fashion industry, is Arzalluz worried that there might be fewer such sponsorship deals in the future? “As far as we are concerned, Chanel’s commitment is unwavering,” she says.

The Paris fashion museum grew out of the History of Costume Society’s donation of its collection to the city in 1920. The collection was transferred to Palais Galliera in the 16th arrondissement in 1977 and has hugely expanded since then. Today, the museum owns more than 200,000 garments, accessories, photographs, drawings, illustrations and prints.

A Chanel dress and coat ensemble in ivory silk from spring-summer 1926, with black silk taffeta detail © Julien T. Hamon

The new basement spaces will enable the museum to present changing thematic exhibitions drawn from the permanent collection. The first displays will open next summer after the forthcoming special exhibition about Vogue magazine.

The aim, Arzalluz says, is to trace “a history of fashion from the 18th century to today through the history of the museum’s collection” while rotating fragile items in and out of display.

Two French architectural firms, Atelier de l’île and Ciel Architectes, have led the renovations. They restructured the cellars, installing a black floor to contrast with the stone-and-brick arches and building a white, concrete staircase to the first floor. The architects created a new technical level underneath the basement to house operational equipment by excavating the surface of the foundations and have added a bookshop to the ground floor.

The exterior has had a makeover too: the facades have been refurbished and the glorious balustrades, whose condition had deteriorated, have had their beauty restored.