Say “Bonjour Coco” at Melbourne’s favourite French festival

A taste of France at Como House. Photo: Francine Schaepper

A taste of France at Como House. Photo: Francine Schaepper

“People walk through those wrought-iron gates and it’s like they’re transported to a village in France; no passport needed!”

Second-generation French-Australian Laura Rancie is reminiscing, with only slight exaggeration, about the warm spring days of past years’ Paris to Provence festivals in the gardens of South Yarra’s elegant National Trust property Como House.

“It’s a whimsical, tangible, really French experience,” she says. “You hear French people speaking, eat French food, listen to French music, as you wander around the nooks and crannies of Como’s gardens.”

Laura poured her longing for a connection with her French heritage – her family is Provencale – into the first Paris to Provence festival seven years ago at Abbotsford Convent.

She anticipated a charming little affair then, with 50 French exhibitors and stalls. “I remember saying, ‘wouldn’t it be great if 1000 people came’,” she says. “Well, we got 5000, and now we have about 14,000 and 74 exhibitors. But we’ll never have any more than that; I don’t want it to get too big. It has to be like you’re a tourist in a little pop-up village.”

 

A post shared by 🇦🇺 Paris To Provence 🇫🇷 (@paris2provence) on

 

Usually the festival stops at Como House’s grand entrance but this year it will also extend indoors, for a rare glimpse into the legacy of French fashion’s most famous daughter: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

“I had the idea to recreate Mademoiselle’s life story,” Laura says. “I’m really excited the National Trust gave us access.”

Tours of an ambitious installation, Coco at Como, will be guided by French blogger Caroline Vosse through Como’s rooms including the gob-smackingly gorgeous ballroom of mirrors and crystal chandeliers.

 

A post shared by 🇦🇺 Paris To Provence 🇫🇷 (@paris2provence) on

 

With some of Melbourne’s most passionate Chanel connoisseurs, Laura has curated vintage couture ensembles including hats, jewellery, handbags, photographs, music and film to track the designer’s life from her early childhood in a Catholic orphanage, her youth as a seamstress by day and cabaret singer by night, to her career zenith, lived out in an opulent Parisian apartment on Rue Cambon.

Laura commissioned antiques-and-art consultant Anton Venoir to recreate Coco’s taste for elaborate Louis XV and XVI furnishings. She called on vintage fashion dealers Richard Gilbert and Dean Hewitt to explore Coco’s fashion legacy, especially the designs and motifs that still echo in every House of Chanel collection today.

 

A post shared by ANTON VENOIR INTERIORS GREECE (@anton.venoir.interiors.greece) on

 

“There are traditions that continue her story [in modern collections] but in fresh and innovative ways,” says Richard, who owns vintage handbag specialist The Upstyler, and recently bought Melbourne’s tiny, but legendary, vintage couture shop Madame Virtue. “Traditions like the crosses that refer to her life in a Christian orphanage, the interlocking Cs, the lions [because she was a Leo], and the quilted leather.”

Vintage fashion consultant Dean Hewitt, who recently sold Madame Virtue to Richard, says original garments from Coco’s life are too rare and precious to be included. “You mostly see them in museums or selling for fabulous prices at Christies and Sotheby’s.”

But he has composed the next-best thing; more than 30 Chanel ensembles, “little black dresses” and gowns, sourced from private collections and archives around the world, faithfully evoking Coco’s early work. “Chanel gave us so many fashions that are still around,” Dean says. “She gave us that relaxed style for instance; the menswear jersey that was seen as so vulgar and low-class then but now is so iconic, so important.”

 

A post shared by Madam Virtue & Co. (@madamvirtue) on

PARIS TO PROVENCEComo House & garden, November 24-26. Book entry tickets online, $22.50. Coco at Como tours run every 45 minutes, $15.

paristoprovence.com.au

Recommended

Melbourne gin festival

Melbourne gin festival

Michael Harden
Raising the bar

Raising the bar

Michael Harden
Pop to it

Pop to it

Brendan Bale
The Stoneleigh Project

The Stoneleigh Project

Jane Hutchinson
Skin contact wines

Skin contact wines

Ben Thomas