Chanel in a Shell

Clockwise, from left: assembling Hadid's Chanel pod in Central Park; a view of the inside; Sylvie Fleury's reinterpreted handbag.Photo: Hannah Whitaker; François Lacour/Courtesy of Chanel (Pod interior, Fleury work)

Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel designer, has no problem separating fashion and art. “Fine art—really fine—is something else,” he says. “This is the complex of many designers and the fear of many artists. Some designers think they do Art, but they think other designers do not.”

Regardless of your stance on that divide, you have to admit that Coco Chanel was onto something when, in 1955, she designed the quilted, chain-strapped handbag known as the 2.55. It has retained its “It” position ever since, beloved by women from Brooke Astor to the cast of The Hills.

In 2005, in honor of 50 years of status baggery, Lagerfeld asked twenty artists (Sylvie Fleury and Yoko Ono among them) to create their own reactions to the 2.55. This year, he asked the architect Zaha Hadid (winner of the Pritzker Prize and, Lagerfeld says, “a Coco Chanel of today”) to design a movable home for those artists’ works. The result is “Mobile Art,” a 7,500-square-foot space pod that has traveled around the world and has just landed in Central Park, plunked down in the middle of Rumsey Playfield. So far, it’s been to Hong Kong and Tokyo. When it’s done here, it will move on to London, then Moscow and Paris.

Even though she’s prominent enough to have had a Guggenheim retrospective of her work, this is, somewhat remarkably, the first time Hadid has had a building erected in New York. “Museums have changed a great deal,” she says. “The connection between culture and public life is critical—temporary architecture that can move around can enrich the lives of many more people.” Particularly as the Dow plunges and Chanel products become a bit more aspirational than they were before: The exhibit is free, and absolutely nothing inside it is for sale.

See Also
A Video Tour of the Exhibit

Central Park
Through November 9

Chanel in a Shell