Modernity of Antiquity: Ancient Greece and Chanel’s Cruise 2018 collection

As I was passing by a shopping mall populated with luxury brands, this minaudière caught my eye:

Chanel minaudière inspired by Classical period Athenian coin

…because even though my days of studying ancient Greece are long behind me, I could recognize that it resembled this coin:

…which is, specifically, a Classical period Athenian tetradrachm, featuring the owl and olive branch of Athena. (The coin also includes a tiny crescent moon under the olive branch, which the designer omitted, but perhaps one of the C’s of the Chanel logo stands in for it?)

Although I do not aspire to own this item, I think it’s beautiful and I find the ancient-to-modern object translation charming. There’s something witty about recreating a coin as an item whose major function is to hold money. Moreover, a valuable ancient coin makes a particularly fitting model for an expensive designer fashion piece.

In the same display I also noticed a pair of sandals using a replica of the coin:

Apparently Chanel’s entire Cruise 2018 collection bears Greek inspiration, with plenty of meandros, acanthus, and column motifs; gladiator sandals; headbands; garments with draped silhouettes; and metal accessories shaped like olive leaves. At least two other known Classical period coins are replicated in the collection, particularly on the outside of this purse:

Sadly, I am no numismatist and I do not have further interesting details about these coins that cannot be found in introductory articles (e.g., the Wikipedia page on ancient Greek coinage or this external article).

Mostly, I am just intrigued by a high-fashion brand like Chanel using ancient Greek material. Whereas the aesthetics of classical Greece are often used to signal prestige (consider the “classical” columned architecture of courthouses or university buildings), Chanel doesn’t need ancient Greece to signal its elite status — nor does the reputation of classical Greece need any help from Chanel.

Perhaps as a result, the invocation of classical Greece remains surface-level. I am reminded of the careful formalities between diplomats, of the lightness of cocktail party conversation, and that privacy is often offered as a luxury (e.g. private compartments in first class). Rather than intimacy, the Chanel collection invokes the dazzle, grandeur, and associated distance-keeping of a deity, a celebrity, or the staging of an ancient Greek drama.

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