Penelope Cruz has been an official ambassador for Chanel since 2018. That was the year she starred in a campaign for the Parisian maison where she was photographed by Karl Lagerfeld dressed in designs from Chanel’s cruise collection. Among them was a look which featured white tweed, a beret and a cashmere knit emblazoned with “La Pausa”, the name of Coco Chanel’s summertime retreat by the French Riviera.
But the Spanish megastar’s admiration for the brand – specifically the house’s history, creations and general know-how – long predated her appointment as an official ambassador.
Cruz has worn Chanel both on and off-screen for years. When attending the 2008 ceremony of the Academy Awards, she walked the red carpet in a black silk Chanel gown detailed with feathers. The dress proved to be a good luck charm as that was the year that Cruz took home an Oscar.
On screen, memorable Cruz-in-Chanel moments include her 2009 turn as Lena, the lead character in Pedro Almodóvar’s hit movie Broken Embraces. “For Broken Embraces, they sent a lot of archive pieces; there were racks full of archive Chanel,” said Cruz, when I interviewed her in Florence, Italy, in early June. “I thought I was going to faint.”
Cruz and Almodóvar, who are close and frequent collaborators, had long wanted to kit a film character out with a Chanel wardrobe. Finally, the time was right. “[Lena] was a very glamorous character. It was right for her,” Cruz explained. “Many other times we had been tempted to use more Chanel, but it had to be right for the character.”
The actor still remembers searching through racks of Chanel creations to piece together Lena’s wardrobe. “It was beautiful to see all those things and try to identify which ones were from the eighties, or later [and] to be able to wear pieces from Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection, which I think was 1983,” she said.
Cruz’s personal Chanel trajectory began with what she described as “a tiny pink bikini”, which she still owns to this day. The bikini was followed by tailored pieces – “a white jacket and skirt that I wore to a Chanel show in 1999”. At Chanel, jackets and two-pieces count among the brand’s alphabet of emblematic designs, creations which nod to the house’s legacy and founder.
Today, some of these designs are realised and perfected at Le19M, the purpose-built facility on the outskirts of Paris that Chanel’s cadre of expert ateliers moved into recently. It was to visit Le19M – and see Chanel’s generations of skilled makers at work – that Cruz had travelled to Florence for when we met.
In early June, Chanel re-staged a show of its Métiers d’art 2021/2022 collection in Florence. First unveiled in Paris last winter, the collection is a celebration of crafts and the art of dressmaking.
The recent show was also witnessed by 240 students enrolled in fashion and design courses at the Politecnico di Milano university and other Italian schools. All had enjoyed a day of Chanel programing: in the morning, Cruz (and speakers including Caroline de Maigret and prolific choreographer Dimitri Chamblas) had joined Bruno Pavlovsky, the president of Chanel’s fashion activities and of Chanel Sas, on stage at the city’s Camera di Commercio for a Chanel masterclass.
This masterclass and their subsequent discussion on topics including research, innovation and sustainability also kick-started an official partnership between Chanel and the Politecnico di Milano University.
During my interview with Cruz, the actor told me about how she used to admire the handiwork of Chanel’s many expert makers, whose skills she observed just before haute couture shows in Paris when samples were being readied. “I saw them finish details by hand,” she said.
Crafting has long been of interest to the multi-award-winning star. When she was young, her grandmother taught her to use a needle and thread or yarn. “She showed me how to sew and knit. I loved doing that with her,” Cruz said, dressed, of course, in Chanel.