Chanel's Jacques Helleu
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Allow me to be a bit uncharacteristically somber for a moment. I was quite saddened to see that Jacques Helleu – Chanel's artistic director that I met earlier this month and just blogged about just last week -- passed away on Friday. The news was a bit shocking: He was incredibly vibrant and energetic in person, very dynamic, very funny. (Susie recounts one of my favorite moments of the meeting as well: After his cell phone kept repeatedly ringing, he answered it by yelling "Impossible!" and then promptly hung up.)
He was also quite candid, telling us insidery details about various Chanel campaigns he had worked on over the years (the one above from 1986 stars onetime Lagerfeld muse Ines de la Fressange, whom he declared "the most difficult person to take a picture of").
He also shared a story of the much-discussed red dress from the Keira Knightly campaign, which apparently was director Joe Wright's vision. Karl Lagerfeld wasn't too keen on the idea at first, especially when Joe started giving direction on how he saw the dress being designed. "Joe Wright was the one who wanted the red dress, and he came to see Karl with me," Helleu told us. "Karl was not too excited… [Joe was telling him,] 'No, it should be like this'. Karl is the king; he does not like advice." Guess they eventually worked it out.
Helleu worked at Chanel for more than 40 years – he first joined in 1956 as the "Manager of Good Taste" – and collaborated on campaigns with everyone from Richard Avedon to Baz Luhrmann. He is also, not unremarkably, the man behind the Chanel J12 watch – quite possibly the only super-identifiable designer product that I desperately covet (in glossy white ceramic, please!). His legacy is undeniable—even if his name isn't immediately recognizable, his ad campaigns have been remembered and referenced for decades. Here's another one of his famous commercials, starring Vanessa Paradis: