Gabrielle Chanel’s entourage included countless greats, among them Jean Cocteau—whose film Testament of Orpheus inspired this year’s Cruise collection—but the grande dame insisted that “books have been my best friends (…) each one is a treasure. If I had daughters, I would give them novels for their instruction. There you find all the great unwritten laws that govern mankind.”
Chanel’s love for literature is evident in the books lining her freshly restored apartment on the Rue Cambon. In December, that passion took on a new form when the first Rendez-vous Litteraires Rue Cambon went live. Organized by Virginie Viard, the podcast series is dedicated to exploring the links between literature, philosophy, emancipation, and fashion. It is also, noted Chanel president Bruno Pavlovsky, “a way of modernizing and reimagining literary salons, to highlight exceptional women and writers as seen by other women today. It’s different—we’re not selling anything; we’re just offering clients the opportunity to discover something new.”
Curated by new Chanel ambassador Charlotte Casiraghi, each Rendez-vous episode explores a new theme. Most recently it was “the young woman as writer and literary heroine,” with author Anne Berest, professor of literature Fanny Arama, and the actress, model and singer Alma Jodorowsky. Casiraghi, who is currently finishing a master’s degree in philosophy, spoke with Vogue just prior to filming the session in the garden of the Baumanière five-star hotel and resort in Les Baux-de-Provence.
Vogue: Gabrielle Chanel said that books were her best friends. Is it the same for you?
Charlotte Casiraghi: You could say that. It’s always hard for me when people ask what my favorite books are. My relationship with literature is that, when I was a child, I felt like all these writers and poets were my friends, like they were a part of me. There’s not just one or two, there are so many and I can’t choose among them. Baudelaire, Rimbaud, or Verlaine were my close, imaginary friends, and I would fantasize about what it would be like to actually meet them in real life.
And now you get to meet authors and champion them in real life.
Exactly, I’m always telling Virginie that this project is a dream. To be able to read and meet writers I admire as a job is a lifelong dream.
How did the Rendez-vous come together?
In a way, it’s kind of like it was always meant to be, because there was already so much history there. But sometimes when there’s a strong link it takes time to actually get to the point of deciding to do something together. My relationship with Karl was more of an intellectual relationship, and perhaps he couldn’t see me in a different way than in real life. Maybe he wanted to preserve that. When I got married in a dress Virginie designed, which was inspired by one of Karl’s last dresses, at La Vigie, the house Karl lived in for many years, suddenly she realized that it was obvious we were meant to be doing things together. It ended up being a natural project.
Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with Karl?
My mother met Karl when she was very young, so they knew each other for a long time. Recently, I discovered a video of me as a baby, maybe two or three months old, with Karl and I realized how close they were. I never saw Karl as ‘Karl Lagerfeld’; he was very protective of my mother and us kids, but it wasn’t at all a paternal relationship. And I always felt that he really valued my interest for books, so that became a strong connection between us. I sensed he wanted to encourage that part of me more than the rest—not that he wasn’t interested in how I looked or dressed, but he was most interested in what I read. I think maybe he encouraged that to make me strong as a woman, so every conversation with him was mainly about books I loved. When I started studying philosophy, he was very proud and he always encouraged me—he’d always send me books, and sometimes very difficult ones, in order to push me. He always wanted to preserve that space for conversation and exchange about things we both cared about. It was about simply sharing a passion for culture. Sometimes when he was overwhelmed by so much going on around him, he basically wanted me to just sit with him and talk about books, mainly. I found that same protection within literature. It’s something intimate we shared.
Can you talk about one book in particular he gave you?
Actually, it came up in the first Rendez-vous we did on Lou Andreas-Salomé. Karl introduced me to her work when I was about 17. I was spending the summer at his house in Biarritz, and I loved the poet Rilke, as did he, so he said I really needed to learn about her because she was the poet’s muse. He offered me a few of her books, and I remember reading them and saying to myself, “I want to be that woman,” the one who challenges men and writes and has a free life. It influenced me a lot.
What inspired you about your guests for this Rendez-vous?
We gave carte blanche to the author Anne Berest, who’s a friend as well, and we really wanted to do a Rendez-vous together. We decided we wanted to focus on the moment of metamorphosis when a young girl becomes a woman. We had to make choices, and we decided to focus on Anne Wiazemsky’s autobiographical writings, but in my references there were also Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, which had a big influence on me, and Colette’s The Innocent Libertine, and so many others.
How do you see Les Rendez-vous evolving?
For the moment it’s already a lot! What I love about it is that I think that fashion, and the house of Chanel in particular, really has the power to put literature forward and encourage people to read and explore. And not just to attach importance to certain stereotypes about fashion and beauty, but to highlight what women have to say, their culture, and the way they see the world, which is extremely valuable. I’d like to overcome the bias about image or commercial interests to show how the Rendez-vous can really help authors. The more we transmit ideas, the more you arouse desire to go in search of other things besides just image. It’s truly a way to promote culture, and we do it with a lot of energy, research, and an intent to make even complex writings accessible.
When you look back on this past year, what are the changes you want to keep?
Given what we’re going through at the moment, I think there’s nothing more dangerous than to fantasize about how life was before. As soon as something is taken away from you for a certain amount of time, there’s a nostalgic desire to look back and see things as even more incredible. We’re all attached to things and we absolutely need to reconnect, but in certain respects I really do hope that we will not go back exactly to the way things were before. However very difficult these times are for so many people, I really think there’s a chance to be aware of a certain emergency that has always been there and that needs an immediate response.
Does the current context make you look at fashion differently?
Definitely. But in that question I see two things. On the one hand, there’s an awareness that many things we once did are not really necessary and so maybe we need to have a more essential relationship with things and try to reduce how we consume. This moment has heightened awareness. And at the same time, because we are all feeling a little depressed and closed in, there’s also a tendency to compensate by consuming, just to breathe a little. I feel more aware, and I also feel that sometimes buying a new cream for example can bring comfort. It’s about being aware of those two things. But I’m less about accumulating right now.
Do you feel optimistic about the future?
I would say I’m neither a pessimist nor an optimist. I would say, il faut avoir le courage de désespérer. Which means that having the courage to despair means there is always hope. We can all feel despair because in that there’s a powerful desire for life and vitality. But I think we’re still far from achieving radical change. That makes me sad. You get the impression that there will have to be an even bigger catastrophe to change a certain number of things that need to be. I get the impression that even with a pandemic that touches the whole of humanity, we still haven’t managed to become conscious of a shared responsibility.
As the world begins opening up again, what are looking forward to most?
Like everybody else, seeing my friends and sharing. I’m looking forward to exchanges—to develop your own thoughts, you need to be able to have conversations, and I’m really looking forward to having more of those.