Chanel: the Première Watch

In the Paris of the 80s, a Paris rife with shoulder pad-wearing individuals sporting neon-colored sneakers, there was one institution that was reinventing itself, far from the trendy tumult of the era. Yes, Chanel has always been ahead of its time, and the arrival of Karl Lagerfeld in 1983 only rekindled the brand’s divine fire that had been put out by Coco’s death. She was like an oracle, living fast without worrying about the passing time. When you really think about it, time is a constraint. Minutes linger while seconds push and shove. Gabrielle Chanel herself never wore a watch. Sometimes she would slip a man’s watch around her wrist, both bulky and pocket watch styles. Just like that; just for the style. Then death came and took her away. The double-C brand found itself slipping into a universe far from its good taste. With the coming of Karl Lagerfeld came also the blasting off of Chanel into the watchmaking sphere, guided by the distinguished Jacques Helleu.

Chanel’s creative director for perfumes and watchmaking had a stroke of genius when he designed the Première watch. In a pompous era where fashion was loaded down, he freed it up with simplicity. An 18 carat octagonal casing topped off with canted sapphire glass in yellow gold. Two needles on a black-lacquered dial and a bracelet modeled after the 2.55’s chain. No visible numbers, no second hand, just the word Chanel. The essence of the camellia-lover herself is alive and well here. The name –Première– rolls off the tongue like an ID number, while the sapphire glass brings to mind the 18th-century room in her dining room… Jacques Helleu would go on to imagine other timepieces; the J12 was what he would remain loyal to until his death.

And so we come to the year 1987. To announce the entrance of this newborn into the public, making it as noticed as it deserved, the brand opted for an initiation as distinguished as the watch itself. The press file was entrusted to Nicole Wisniak, a female artist who really gets going for all that is beautiful, elegant, distinguished, and exceptional. She was also behind the publication “spasmodique”. Selfish, she often used this very quality to get the job done. Trendy collaborators, skilled in their domains, she left it up to Sagan to sign off on a text entitled La Femelle du temps and charged François-Marie Banier with coming up with an appropriate portrait. But the most beautiful of declarations was that of Inès de la Fressange, the quintessential Parisian woman. At the ready-to-wear runway show in October of that same year, she threw hers into the crowd… It took no more to create the legend of the Première.

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