Coco Chanel’s passion for black and white inspires designers and modern interiors

Be inspired by Coco Chanel, now showing at the Saatchi Gallery. The iconic Parisian fashion designer had a passion for black-and-white homeware.

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Coco Chanel’s effortless chic, not to mention her racy personal life, are endlessly fascinating. There have been several Chanel biopics, and now Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery exhibition, Mademoiselle Privé — the title refers to the stern do-not-disturb sign on her atelier door — is toasting her life and work.
And with good reason — after opening her first Paris shop in 1910, Chanel helped free women from constricted, elaborate clothing with her comfortable yet elegant ensembles in fluid jersey.
Her style owed much to her ingenious twinning of black and white — silk camellia corsages pinned to bouclé tweed suits, simple little black dresses, pearls and corresponding shoes.

Black-and-white designs inspired by Coco Chanel 


The show pays tribute to this, starting with its large, deftly drawn black sketch of Chanel at the entrance. Inside, visitors can download an app for a virtual tour of her glamorous flat at Rue Cambon in the French capital. Well, she loved interiors as much as fashion.
It’s enough to tempt anyone to emulate her style at home. Yet black and white can be overpowering, so what’s the secret to doing it well?
One designer who’s always carried it off with aplomb is Sue Timney, who made her name in the Eighties as part of influential duo Timney Fowler, famous for black-and-white textiles and wallpapers. Inspired today by the black-and-white marble floor of Claridge’s lobby, she’s still a firm advocate of this crisp, two-tone combination.

Simply stunning: tiles in the lobby at Claridge’s hotel showcase Art Deco styling

“It’s powerful yet flexible,” she says. “These neutral tones go well with colours.” For the adventurous, she suggests “the drama of black lacquered walls — provided the plasterwork is in good condition — paired with white or ivory objects to create the ultimate look of luxury”.
Decorative artist Bridie Hall, co-founder of Bloomsbury design store Pentreath & Hall, takes a more restrained line. “Monochrome can look severe, but needn’t feel overwhelming if confined to small areas and to soft furnishings and accessories, which are less imposing but still have an impact,” she says.
Used sparingly, geometric pieces such as Beatrice Larkin’s Tumbler cushion and Luke Irwin’s Roanoke rug would look striking, but not overbearing — as would Pentreath & Hall’s neoclassical plaster friezes by Peter Hone, perhaps hung in an alcove painted black or charcoal.
Black and white can bring to mind neoclassical interiors, the Art Deco era of Chanel and even the monochrome-loving Eighties that, thanks in no small part to another Bloomsbury shop, Darkroom, are enjoying a revival. Typical of its Eighties-inspired wares is the Tiler table coated with black-and-white Murano glass tiles.

Harmonious pairing: designer Sue Timney’s inspired interiors for the water tower house in Kennington, which featured in Grand Designs, include bold black-and-white walls as part of an overall theme of fire and water. Image: Andreas von Einsiedel

Monochrome can also conjure up the Fifties — think Italian designer Piero Fornasetti’s witty, graphic homeware, sold in abundance at Harrods. A more toned-down version of this fashionable mid-century style is Ercol’s Fifties black Evergreen chair with white upholstery.
More Art Deco is Christopher Guy Harrison’s lacquered Menton screen. Part of his Chanel-inspired Mademoiselle furniture collection, it nods to the fact that the fashion icon adored screens.
Even today’s lighting capitalises on contrasting black and white. Take Michael Anastassiades’s Copy Cat light, which has a small black orb containing an LED source that thrusts light into a larger white sphere.
The stylish black-and-white aspects of grand hotels can become features in the home, thanks to India Mahdavi’s jazzy floor tiles for Bisazza, or Emma Molony’s Beastly Chronicles wallpaper.
Whichever look appeals, the simplicity of combining these two tones creates a unified effect and, naturellement, allows you to channel Chanel’s chic style.

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