ICON: Chanel's Lion
Text by Kee | Photos courtesy of Chanel
'Sous le Signe du Lion' brooch is one of several modern creations of the fashion house that continues to honour the motif
A lion is the centrepiece for Chanel's couture show in 2010 at the Grand Palais
Coco Chanel's headstone in Lausanne features five lion heads, a number that she was also fond of
Coco Chanel's apartment features several lion references
Chanel's 'Leo' flap bag

On her headstone located in Lausanne is the engraving of five – her lucky number – lion heads that appear to stand guard over her final resting place. Make no mistake, there is no room for those interlocking Cs – which was said to be designed by her in 1925 – that has now become one of the most recognisable insignias in luxury and high fashion. It wasn’t an oversight either that those famous initials were left behind, only occasionally making cameos in the form of a floral arrangement in the front of her headstone. The significance of the lion in Gabrielle Chanel’s work and life is arguably down to a simple connection. Like most popular designers of her era, she was deeply superstitious and respected the zodiac with exactitude. Her star sign Leo became her comfort blanket and guiding light in almost everything she did. It was even fashioned as gilded buttons on her jacket like her version of the Evil Eye. Inside her famous 31 rue Cambon apartment, one would even find several lion sculptures fashioned in marble, wood, alabaster, and bronze decorating the various spots in her real estate, keeping her company in her most private moments. While you might speculate that she used the lion solely as a talismanic symbol for protection, it was said to have initially helped her heal after the untimely death of her lover Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel. On a soul-searching trip to Venice, she was enamoured by the Lion of St. Mark, a winged version on the Basilica of St. Mark’s facade which started her adoration of the beast. It is also this version of the lion (sans the wings) that can be traced to the house of Chanel’s depiction of the muscular and menacing beast, one that also symbolises strength and confidence. That said, if this was the most important and personal symbol of Mademoiselle Chanel, it has been sparingly utilised by the house in the last five decades since her passing. The most impressionable cameo of the lion by the late Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel can be seen a decade ago when the house erected an 18-metre tall version as a centrepiece for its haute couture runway show in Paris. It was also during the last decade that a discontinued line of Chanel flap bags, named Leo, flaunted lion head hardware and its fine and high jewellery collections started banking on the lion as a key motif. So the next time you spot new Chanel wares featuring this lion motif, just know it’s even more personal of a story for the designer and the house than even those interlocking Cs.

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