Review: Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike Paris 1967-1971


5th September-15th November 2013, Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion, London, United Kingdom

By Lucy Moyse 


Chanel Big Head

Marion Pike, Chanel – Big Head, 1967. Acrylic on Masonite, 246 x 150cm.

The presence of Coco Chanel is an ubiquitous reference and influence within fashion, yet one that is frequently clouded by hagiography. Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike, on view at the Space Gallery until 15th November, succeeds in slicing through such shrouds by offering an insight into a specific, but no less absorbing and enriching, aspect of the designer’s later life.

Curator Amy de la Haye does well to strictly guard the parameters of the exhibition aims, resulting in a rich and compelling exploration of the intense friendship shared by Chanel and Californian artist, Marion Pike, during the late 1960s, and the subsequent, supposed effects that it had on their respective aesthetics.

Locating the show, on the London College of Fashion’s first floor, requires retracing the steps of some of the fashion industry’s most important names through embryonic hallways and rooms: a fitting start to a considered collection. Visitors are greeted by a modest, but thoughtfully laid-out gallery space, which combines paintings, dress objects, and ephemera in near-equal measure, demonstrating the enrichment that can be gained through an interdisciplinary approach.

Chanel and Marion

Photographer unknown, Marion and Coco pose together with ‘Coco Chanel – Big Head’, 1967.

Sternness, of course, is a characteristic much attributed to Chanel, particularly in her later days. One of the greatest strengths of the exhibition, then, is to provide a refreshingly original account. A telegram expressing Chanel’s boredom without Pike and her love for the artist, or a scarf instantaneously plucked from her own neck and given to her friend upon first meeting (which, delightfully, is featured nestled amongst the pair’s correspondence) counteract the stereotypical portrayal of the designer as a bitter, lonely woman.

Whilst this relationship is clearly the core of the show, it its supplemented and enhanced by individual examples of the women’s respective work. The exhibition claims to portray a ‘shared palette’ that emerged between Pike and Chanel. Visually, this is evident in abundance. Chanel’s Spring/Summer 1969 brocaded silk lamé ensemble, for example, is perfectly placed behind Pike’s ‘Chanel Seated’ of the preceding year, which shares its unusual pink and green colour scheme, and painterly, expressive lines. Further Pike exhibits are independent within her own oeuvre, and allow viewers to assess Chanel’s influence for themselves – fans will spot the shared fondness for camellias. In turn, the Chanel pieces are inexorably connected to Pike contextually because they were made for, or given, to the artist and her daughter, Jeffie, the exhibition’s lender, narrator, and author. Nevertheless, it is this personal touch that initially sparked, and continues to underpin, the exhibition which illuminates the perception of Chanel’s final years with light, love, and laughter.

 Chanel Seated

Marion Pike, Chanel Seated, 1968. Acrylic on Masonite, 137 x 119cm.

Chanel Ensemble

 Chanel, brocaded silk lamé ensemble, Spring/Summer 1969 



Fashion Space Gallery:


Lucy Moyse is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and tutor at the University for the Creative Arts. She is currently working on violence in fashion during the interwar period, in London, Paris, and New York.

Review: Coco Chanel: A New Portrait

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