The Collector

A Chanel Obsessive’s Cache Extends Well beyond Her Walk-In Closet  

“I went to the store on Rue Cambon for the first time twenty years ago, and I never walked out,” jokes independent curator and fine-art publisher Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, remembering the beginning of her Chanel obsession.

Hurowitz has since become one of the fashion house’s most valuable — and daring — customers, traveling around the world to see shows and visit artisanal workshops, picking up an enviable wardrobe of hundreds of pieces — from tweeds to tiaras, veils to valises — along the way. 

Only a small selection of these treasures is housed in her walk-in closet — a jewel-box space that could be a Chanel pop-up store — in her equally chic apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Over the years, she has given away only two items (a cashmere sweater and a dress — “I knew they were mistakes right away”).

She still has the terry-cloth bathing-suit cover-up she bought on that first trip to the Paris mecca. In her truly inimitable and imaginative style, she had no hesitation wearing her find to work back in New York, where she was a print specialist at Sotheby’s.

Chanel collector Sharon Coplan Hurwitz opens a drawer in her walk-in closet to reveal a few of her prized Chanel handbags
Chanel enthusiast Sharon Coplan Hurwitz opens a drawer in her walk-in closet to reveal a few of her prized Chanel handbags, including a Record wristlet clutch, 2004, and a swooping Zaha Hadid bag from the Chanel Mobile Art Museum, 2008. Top: Leaning on a MICHAEL GRAVES PLAZA VANITY in her New York apartment, Hurwitz sports a Chanel Graffiti dress and a Chanel CC crown with pearls from the Spring/Summer 2021 collection. “When I wear the Chanel crown, I try to reference Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman instead of a princess vibe,” she says.

Hurowitz’s pieces are mainly from the years when the late Karl Lagerfeld headed the brand, between 1983 and 2019, but she has wholeheartedly embraced the work of current creative director Virginie Viard, the Lagerfeld protégée who took over after his death. 

“The language and vocabulary of Chanel is so holistic and consistent,” Hurowitz says. “There’s no other brand I can think of that, when I pull out something from twenty years ago, there’s the same vocabulary and narrative that is in something I bought last week.” 

Talking with Hurowitz about the maison is like taking a master class in fashion: She speaks as knowledgeably and passionately about design as she does about Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns, two legendary artists with whom she has collaborated on projects and special print editions. Here, Hurwitz tells Introspective more about her prized Chanels. 

Chanel Lait De Coco MILK CARTON BAG, 2014–15; limited-edition Chanel Anniversary bag; and Chanel PYRAMID BAG, 2018
From left: Lait de Coco Milk Carton bag, from the Supermarket runway show, Fall/Winter 2014–15; limited-edition Anniversary bag; and Pyramid bag, from the Métiers d’Art runway show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 2018

You describe the craftsmanship of some of your Chanel pieces as if they were works of art, which is a true compliment from someone like you, who has worked directly with so many famous artists.  Is that why Chanel speaks to you?

Karl Lagerfeld always drew a line in the sand between himself and fine artists. He didn’t intend his clothes to be art. However, the Chanel approach is artisanal and so handmade, and you see the craftsmanship in all aspects of design. Chanel owns the great workshops — like Maison Michel [milliner] and Maison Lesage [lacemaker] — that supply the house with the finest materials and outlets for creativity.

The lining of every jacket is finished with a chain sewn at the bottom so it hangs properly on the body, and the tailoring is so impeccable that everything can be broken down and remade for the needs of the client. I’m barely five feet tall, so I shamelessly alter everything.

You might not see that level of detail and craftsmanship in a magazine or online image, but it is experienced. When it’s on, I can feel the difference in the lining, the darting and the touch of the exquisite buttons. There’s a whole encompassing feeling of beauty and empowerment that comes with wearing Chanel.

Sharon Coplan Hurwitz's wonderful Chanel world
Clockwise from top left: a Chanel Bible bag, 2004, purchased on 1stDibs; a Frame bag, 2014; a row of colorful classic Chanel purses; a No. 5 Bottle bag, 2013, with a Just a Drop of No. 5 bag, 1990s; Hurwitz in a Campana Brothers Teddy Bear Banquete chair, 2004, in front of Sarah Morris‘s Taurus wallcovering; a selection of Chanel runway shoes; and STP (aka Sharon the Puppet). “My family commissioned STP for my birthday. She is wearing a facsimile of my favorite Chanel suit,” Hurwitz says. “During COVID, I have been learning to puppeteer with Emmy Award–winning Sesame Street puppeteer Ben Durocher, and it has been the most rewarding experience. I’m hooked!”

Sometimes, I am surprised to learn that some funky outfit or bag you are wearing is Chanel, like your silver shorts suit. What’s different about the pieces you choose?

My Chanel clothes have a long shelf life. They are timeless, but they are also ahead of their time, and I like that duality. On one hand, they’re really classic, but on the other hand, there’s always something irreverent, something that pushes the envelope.

I tend to gravitate toward those types of pieces every season, like the Vinyl Record bag in patent leather, the No. 5 Bottle bag, the gold lamé jacket with “Vote Coco” embossed on the back. And the accessories are another place to have fun: the veils, hats, jewelry and gloves. I just bought two tiaras from this season. I will wear them anywhere and everywhere.

I think what you wear is an important form of communication. I look for things that make me feel good about myself and expand my viewpoint. I am willing to take risks. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I fail. And it’s okay, because they’re clothes, and you can take them off, right? Or you can always find a way to wear them.

I do not want to buy the thing that’s going to blend in or that I already have. I gravitate to the pieces that are unexpected, and Chanel always delivers. 

Chanel necklaces belonging to Sharon Coplan Hurwitz
Chanel jewelry: Giant Pearl Headphone choker (center top) from the Art Gallery runway show, Spring/Summer 2014; Padlock necklace (far right) and Candy necklace (far left) from the Supermarket runway show, Fall/Winter 2014–15; Dog Tag necklace (center) and brooch (top left), two of Hurwitz’s earliest purchases, bought in the 1990s. “One of the most memorable shows was the transformation of the Grand Palais into a supermarket for Fall/Winter 2014. Everything from this collection was a celebration of consumer culture. I still reach for these pieces — like my Chanel Candy necklace — for inspiration and fun,” she says.

The runway shows, in their themes and production, seem like works of art as well. Can you explain how the concepts of the shows carry through the pieces like — dare I say — a thread?

With Karl Lagerfeld and now Virginie Viard, there’s an overarching theme for each runway show: La Pausa cruise ship [2018], the Temple of Dendur Egyptian wing at the Met [2018], an art gallery exhibition [2013].

I am so fortunate to attend the Chanel shows, which are staged in various countries, where you get to see an entire environment created for a collection. I love that the narrative is carried through every aspect of the set design, down to the music and, of course, through the details of the clothes.

I had a Milk Carton bag and a Candy necklace from the Supermarket show [2014] and shoes from the Iceberg show [2010] with icebergs encrusted on the heels. My pink confection dress from the Versailles show [2012] has a corset and big skirt that makes me feel like Marie Antoinette.

Sharon Coplan Hurwitz touches ensembles from various Chanel ready-to-wear collections.
Hurwitz touches an ensembles from Chanel ready-to-wear collections. On her left hand are a Marc Newson Ikepod watch and an Anish Kapoor gold ring. Her “Open Studio” manicure features Chanel Le Vernis nail polishes gifted by Chanel for the virtual launch of Open Studio: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artists (Phaidon), by Hurwitz and this article’s author.

You’ve been known to track certain items down on the resale market. How do you go about doing that?

I like to invest in a few extraordinary pieces each season and wear them to death. So, there’s always a level of regret of missing out, because Chanel delivers so many incredible looks. I have an ambitious wish list of things I didn’t get the first go-round. I pay attention to the resale market — and sometimes I’m lucky, like scoring a Chanel suede Bible bag on 1stDibs.

However, I am not strategic when I look for resale items. I don’t actively seek things, I let them seek me. I look at the resale sites for recreation, as a break away from my work in the art world. I find a lot of pleasure going to 1stDibs every day, midday, because I like to check in and see what pops up. I like the spontaneity of it. I don’t want to take this too seriously — joy is the ultimate luxury.

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