In 1957, Coco Chanel travelled to Dallas to receive the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion. It was a special moment for the designer, whose post war return to couture in 1954 had been met with howls of dismay from the French fashion press, but had been embraced and adored by American customers. More than half a century on, the extraordinary cavalcade that is the 21st century Chanel has just descended on Dallas for the annual Métiers D’Art couture show, where the fashion house displays the handiwork of the 11 Parisian workshops that produce the exquisite handwrought elements that make Chanel so unique to an exclusive audience of 900. Key among them is Lady Amanda Harlech, muse and consultant to Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel since 1996, and star of the designer’s latest short film for the brand, The Return.
Today, to commemorate yesterday's extraordinary show, Harlech opens up to AnOther's Editor-in-Chief Jefferson Hack, on her inspirations, her current concerns, her proudest moments and the endless hilarity caused by falling off a toboggan.
What are you thinking of right now?
Right now I am thinking of the wind which is pounding my farm, ripping at the roof. Both scarecrows are lying face down in the vegetable garden. I am wondering how I am going to get the horses into their fields.
What makes you laugh?
Tobogganing wipe outs, being wrapped round a branch when out riding my horse because I was too busy making jokes about pink fluffy toys spreadeagled in a garden, finding something I thought I had lost or finding out the rhyme in the reason – like the ancient sense of a word – and dancing by myself.
What makes you cry?
Loss. Endings. The end of The Selfish Giant or The Turin Horse for instance.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?
My grandmother Nina.
Where do you feel most at home?
Where are you right now?
What is your proudest achievement in work?
Receiving the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator on Monday was an amazing moment. It hasn't really sunk in.
What is your proudest achievement in life?
I don't think I am a proud person but I think my children are incredible...I think I am part of that.
What do you most dislike about contemporary culture?
Contemporary culture is like the weather – we have to be open to it. I don't like the way it is dismissed or closed down. We have to keep an eye on the future with a sense of the past in every passing moment of the present.
"We have to keep an eye on the future with a sense of the past in every passing moment of the present" — Lady Amanda Harlech
What do you most like about the age we live in?
I love what Ai Weiwei has done to reach the world – this would not have been possible without the internet. Today I am thinking of Nelson Mandela and really what I love most about the age we live in is that the great eternal qualities are greater than ever – like forgiveness.
At what points do life and work intersect?
I don't think I separate my life and my work.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Love yourself. No grit no pearl. "Life is a pure discerning light/A knowing joy..."
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Recommend a book or poem that has changed your perspective on life?
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman; In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje; Homer's Odyssey and The Phoenix and the Turtle by Shakespeare. But there are many many more.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
My earliest childhood memory is watching the sunlight through a jar of amber full of wasps.
What’s the most important relationship in your life?
Probably with myself.
What’s the most romantic action you’ve taken?
Riding to the sea through the snow in Harlech, jumping out of a car at Hyde Park Corner and making an album of a time.
What’s the most spiritual action you’ve taken?
Dawn, listening to the comet pass, watching the moon.
If you could wish for one change in the world, what would it be?
Kindness is the noblest thing humankind can aspire to – we need more of it.
Watch a trailer for The Return here.
Further Reading: Go inside the extraordinary Métiers D’Art workshops in our series here.