Keira Knightley Talks About Her Chanel Dustbin Wedding Dress, Love Affair With the Brand

Keira Knightley Chanel Dinner - Getty - H 2016
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The actress, along with Alexa Chung, Amy Astley, Stefano Tonchi and many others, was on hand to help open the Jewel Box at Bergdorf Goodman.

“It really has been almost 10 years, hasn’t it?” Keira Knightley asks, noting that she was only 21 at the time her first campaign for Chanel, a Coco Mademoiselle ad photographed by Dominique Issermann, was shot in 2007. “It’s very much a relationship that’s been built over the years, and I feel unbelievably fortunate,” she says. “The thing about Chanel is that there are relatively few people working at the top, so I feel like it’s a small family.”

Almost a decade later, Knightley is sitting on the 7th floor of Bergdorf Goodman, wearing a navy and platinum A-line coatdress from Chanel’s Fall 2016 haute-couture collection, and admitting she never takes such a moment in stride. “It’s a special thing to be wearing what is essentially a work of art,” she says, her fingers running over the thousands of hand-sewn sequins that cover the quilted dress. “I also love that it’s this iconic, extraordinary brand that was started by a woman and the legacy that goes with that. But back when I started, I had no anticipation the relationship would last this long.”

Knightley’s special relationship is key to her appearance at Bergdorf Goodman on Tuesday evening, to christen the Jewel Box, a pop-up installation — or, in Chanel parlance, “ephemeral boutique” — that opened to the public Wednesday morning (the Jewel Box is open through Sunday at Bergdorf Goodman). Styled as a chic Parisian apartment, the Jewel Box offers a glimpse not only at the quintessential lifestyle one might envision as a fan of both a legendary French label and a famed New York department store, but also in the effortless blend of how a Parisian woman might wear her jewelry: a quilted yellow-gold cuff paired with a ring splashed with white diamonds, for example — all pieces from different collections, and yet the mix just works. The latest collection, Coco Crush, was displayed alongside classic and previous pieces still offered for sale; Knightley will be featured in the Coco Crush campaign in ads that will break in October magazines.

The Jewel Box installation also celebrates the partnership of Chanel and Bergdorf Goodman, explains Linda Fargo, the retailer’s senior vp of fashion and store presentation director. “It took us a while to find exactly the right location for their fine jewelry on our main floor, and the right way to put it all together,” she says (Chanel’s fine jewelry shop-in-shop opened at Bergdorf Goodman in April). “Once we made it happen, then it was just an idea of, 'How do you properly celebrate it and launch it?'” The Jewel Box cocktail party, which also drew Alexa Chung, Amy Astley, Stefano Tonchi and Derek Blasberg, was followed by a dinner at the Kelly Wearstler-designed BG Restaurant.

Even with a sizeable contingent of Chanel execs in the house — including fine-jewelry director Benjamin Comar and executive vp of fashion Joyce Green — the glamor of the night centered on Knightley, whose affinity for the house extends beyond the professional. Granted, she’s shot three Chanel campaign films with Joe Wright, who also directed her in Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina (you also can spot Chanel fine jewelry in the latter two films). “When Chanel first approached us, it wasn’t about just wanting me or wanting Joe — they really wanted the team that had done Pride & Prejudice,” Knightley points out. “He and I are now friends — his youngest son is three months older than my daughter, so we now literally do play dates in the sandpit. But it’s also very rare to find someone with whom you share a creative language. I feel very lucky to have found that both within my life and within my career.”

Yet there’s another moment, Knightley feels, that cements her relationship with the French house. It’s the now-famous tale of her wedding dress — but do you know all the details? “I’d worn it once before to a party,” she says of the pink tulle strapless dress. “I remembered it also because I ended up having to escape out the back of the house — we wanted to leave, but there were all these photographers out front, so a group of us climbed down a drainpipe and jumped into a big dustbin and ran off. It was just one of those nights where you go, 'OK, that happened, that was a great night.'”

Fast-forward to Knightley’s 2013 wedding to James Righton. She already had a $67,000 Valentino haute-couture gown for the formal ceremony, but needed a dress for the civil service. “I immediately thought, 'The dress, the drainpipe, the dress — that’s exactly what’s required,'” Knightley remembers. But she also wondered if the dress still existed, given that Chanel, like many fashion houses, routinely destroys samples not deemed important for its archives. “I phoned up my friend Elsa at Chanel and asked, ‘Do you remember that dress from years ago? Do you still have it?’ And she said, ‘It’s literally in the pile to be destroyed.’ So I saved it twice, and now I have it at home, where it will never be destroyed.”

Guests are starting their leisurely stroll into dinner as Knightley smiles and thinks about that moment. “It was destiny,” she says. “I’ve had a really good time in that dress.”