Book Club / Culture

Inside CHANEL’s Parisian literary rendez-vous with Rachel Cusk, Naomi Campbell and Charlotte Casiraghi

chanel literary rendez-vous

A rich literary tradition exists at CHANEL. The French fashion House has long championed the arts, paying special attention to authors, thought leaders, and writers of note.

Take, for example, the recent Literary Rendez-vous CHANEL hosted ahead of its presentation at Paris Fashion Week, which included a round table conversation between Rachel Cusk, Naomi Campbell, and CHANEL ambassador Charlotte Casiraghi – a founder of the format. The last time CHANEL gathered for its Literary Rendez-vous was in Manchester at the Victoria Baths, tapping Mancunian author Jeanette Winterson, critic Erica Wagner, CHANEL ambassador Kristen Stewart and Casiraghi for a confab around the many powers and pulls of literature, including the books they hold dear.

This time around and perhaps most extraordinarily, the recent literary salon was hosted in Karl Lagerfeld's personal library, a charming space with novels stacked from floor to ceiling. RUSSH executive fashion director Hannah Cooper was welcomed into the library with pleasure, joining an intimate audience who had the privilege of listening to Campbell and Casiraghi probe Cusk about her books – most notably A Life's Work, which was groundbreaking in its candour around maternal ambivalence.

Motherhood was an underlying theme. Campbell opened up to the room, and later to RUSSH, about her own experience of motherhood – the first time she's done so in public. Touching on the power of literature to bring people together, Campbell emphasised how for her, CHANEL has always stood out as a safe space. "You need to feel safe and trusting to speak about – whatever topic it is to be honest, especially in today's world," she told Cooper.

"I've worked with CHANEL since I was 16, and I haven't really spoken about motherhood anywhere, today will be my first time," Campbell continued. "I'm so thankful Charlotte asked me. Charlotte has been someone that I've spoken to a lot just about advice with my two babies."

As one of the architects behind CHANEL's literary rendez-vous, Charlotte Casiraghi told RUSSH about her inspiration for the project. "The inspiration was actually Lagerfeld," Casiraghi reveals. The late designer was a close family friend and the pair had "a very intimate relationship". Sharing books was how Lagerfeld expressed his affection and Casiraghi reflected on how the late designer gifted her novels from an early age, contributing to her discovery of "amazing female authors".

"Literature was an important part of Karl's secret life," she emphasised, though "it wasn't necessarily something he would talk about. Gabrielle Chanel was also very close to a lot of poets and writers," Casiraghi continued. "Since Karl isn't here anymore, I understood that this had to continue and be part of the CHANEL story; to show that Gabrielle Chanel and Karl were two geniuses in fashion but were also passionate about literature... Literature and fashion are two methods of emancipation for women."

On top of this, Casiraghi noted how Lagerfeld always stressed the importance of persisting with a book. It was his way; Lagerfeld would foster a safe environment to explore works that could challenge and make one uncomfortable, ultimately leading to intellectual and emotional expansion.

It's a sentiment Naomi Campbell shares. Speaking to RUSSH she said, "I believe you need to exercise your mind every single day and literature is what does that". The model also offers up names of the authors who've influenced her most, citing Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. "It's so strange because a lot of what they wrote then has come to light now," she mused. Expanding her answer to include "strong women and men. I like authentic, slightly more on the activism side of race and human rights, people who speak out."

The literary rendez-vous concluded with Campbell and Casiraghi reading passages from Cusk's novels that particularly resonated with them. Guests walked away with a small library of Cusk's books, including Transit, Second Place and A Life’s Work, and a sense of calm and determination.

"We all lack time and concentration," Casiraghi concluded, "but the more you read the easier it is. You don't necessarily have to understand everything, sometimes it takes a while for a book to grow on you. It's rewarding when you finish a book and it expands your world."

It's like Naomi Campbell told us, "I'm a work in progress and I love to learn". What is reading if not these words in action?

You can watch the full in-conversation on the CHANEL YouTube channel.

Stay inspired, follow us.