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As the last of the public exited at sunset, nine pieces of vaulted treasure emerged to make their debut at the New York Public Library on June 2. Against a backdrop of 78-foot-high marble walls, lit candelabra and trays of champagne, rare items including a Gutenberg Bible from 1455 sat beneath clear glass cases poised to be celebrated at a Chanel Fine Jewelry-hosted cocktail hour and dinner.
“The only time I’ve been around rare books is when I’ve been in sweatpants and Uggs and an oversized t-shirt, so I’m excited to re-introduce myself to Gutenberg and be dressed for the occasion,” said Allison Williams, who wore a black velvet lace top and floor-length white leather skirt from the label’s 2016 Paris-Rome collection. Amanda Peet, who grew up coming to the library, had her sights set on Vladimir Nabokov’s annotated copy of Madame Bovary: “I read that book in the last five years. I’m interested to see what those annotations mean, what it even is, what his notes are.”
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: Allison Williams attended Chanel Fine Jewelry’s dinner to celebrate treasures from the NYPL collection. (Photo: Getty Images)
But what quickly became clear — as a spectacle of silk, tweed and lace-embellished stars like Dakota Fanning and Rose Byrne filled the room — was that the most celebrated item, was also the loneliest: all eyes were on Chanel, not on Gutenberg.
“I feel like I’m dressed a bit like an old grandma — I love that everything is covered,” said Leelee Sobieski, who stunned in a silver-embroidered tweed jacket and skirt from the spring/summer 2016 collection. “My husband’s grandma — great Grandma Shirley to my kids — I feel a little bit like her and she’s amazing,” added the actress just before bumping into friend Jemima Kirke. “I love that this look is like a jewelry box itself,” said actress Phoebe Tonkin of her embroidered top from the Chanel 2016 Cruise collection. “But the relationship between jewelry and books? I guess both collect stories over time.”
Despite the Parisian fashion house’s history of support for the NYPL, the interconnectedness of the literary and high fashion worlds remained somewhat ambiguous to many of the guests. “I’m not quite sure how they relate, but I’m excited to drink wine in a library — I’ve never done that before,” said actress Haley Bennett.
Byrne drew parallels from subtle but coincidental details. “I think the preservation of fine things is what Chanel and the library both do, but I think with Coco Chanel being a Leo — being associated with the symbol of the lion and the lion statues being outside of the library — there is a certain presence,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
CHIC IN CHANEL: Amanda Peet and Rose Byrne attended Chanel Fine Jewelry’s dinner to celebrate treasures from the NYPL collection. (Photo: Getty Images)
The symbolic lion, which Gabrielle Chanel surrounded herself with at her apartment in Paris, was present in nearly a dozen pieces of fine jewelry at the party. “I’m not into chokers. We need to put a cap on the ‘90s,” declared Kirke, who wore a massive gold, diamond and onyx Constellation du Lion ring. “But this ring is great, it covers up my psoriasis.”
“I’ve got two lions on and I think they speak for themselves,” said Dakota Fanning of the “Lion Mosaique” cuff and “Lion Protecteur” ring in 18K white gold and diamonds that she wore. “Chanel is such an iconic brand, it’s always represented elegance to me,” she said while making her way into the newly renovated Gottesman Exhibition Hall for dinner. “Getting to wear such beautiful jewelry and a beautiful dress to support the New York Public Library — it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
Indeed, the room, which was filled with banquet tables that overflowed with pink peonies, white hydrangeas, roses and candlelight, would never look the same. “Next year we are going to take the treasures out of the vault and put them in safe cases in this room and invite every New Yorker, every tourist, everyone to see them,” president of the NYPL Anthony W. Marx told THR. “And then we’ll connect all of these treasures digitally.”
Until then — or at least until the clock neared midnight — guests enjoyed a three-course meal served a la Francaise in a space that some said felt “like Europe instead of New York” and others like Beauty And The Beast. “Yes, I’ve partied in a library,” Kirke said, “but never like this.”
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