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The story of the great love affair between Coco Chanel and the camellia flower

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Coco Chanel at work, photographed by Roger Schall, 1937

Coco Chanel at work, photographed by Roger Schall, 1937

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel in Deauville, France, in 1913

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel in Deauville, France, in 1913

Gabrielle Chanel at her house ‘La Pausa’ in the French Riviera in 1930

Gabrielle Chanel at her house ‘La Pausa’ in the French Riviera in 1930

Gabrielle Chanel on the shoulder of her friend Serge Lifar in 1937

Gabrielle Chanel on the shoulder of her friend Serge Lifar in 1937

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Coco Chanel at work, photographed by Roger Schall, 1937

In the play of the Alexander Dumas novel of the same name, La Dame aux Camelias, a TB-stricken courtesan, Marguerite, falls in love with a respectable bourgeois, Armand. Their love is doomed, needless to mention, as is the heroine, whose happiness is thwarted at every turn by her social class and also her too proudly worn sexuality. Throughout the play, Marguerite is adorned by the camellias of the title; red when she is menstruating, pure white when she is open to love.

It was this play, it is often said, that captivated a very young Coco Chanel; inspired by it to adopt the camellia as her signature bloom, which featured on everything from shoes, to the lacquered screens in her Paris apartment, to dresses, jewellery, handbags and patterned fabric. The camellia was her simple, near symmetric wordless calling card, almost as iconic as the linked double Cs, but categorically more symbolic.


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