In the closing months of 1957, Chanel promised to drum up support for the author Joseph Kessel (1898-1979) as candidate for the Honorary Presidency of the Société Baudelaire, for which the elections were intended to be held the following year. Kessel’s brother, Georges, recalled how touched the novelist was at the enthusiastic response to his bid for office.
At that juncture, however, General de Gaulle became Head of State, whereupon Joseph magnanimously hinted that the General might follow the precedent of Albert Lebrun (1871-1950), who had presided the Société Baudelaire’s Honorary Committee concurrently with his Presidency of France. Kessel foresaw widespread support for De Gaulle among Baudelaireans, many of whom had worked in the Resistance. Moreover, the General was no stranger to the Société’s proceedings.
author and Société Baudelaire Dictionary contributor
since 1927. He stepped down in favour of General de Gaulle.
Albert Lebrun, President of the French Republic
concurrently with his Honorary Presidency
of the Société Baudelaire.
General de Gaulle was canvassed to succeed him.
When the author, Société Dictionary contributor and Cultural Affairs Minister André Malraux (1901-1976) informed Limouse, then President of the Executive Committee, that De Gaulle had consented to the formation of a caucus in furtherance of his candidature, Kessel modestly stepped aside.
But hard on the heels of the Gaullist committee newly set up by the Baudelairean Stanislas Fumet (1896-1983), a splinter group met at Natalie Barney’s pavilion. The news was quick to spread that a rival committee would soon be pressing forward its own candidate. At first, Gaullist supporters were dismissive of the very notion of anyone being so rash as to measure themselves against De Gaulle’s universal standing. The same could not be said of Barney’s friends as they sought a suitable candidate to set against a President of the Republic whose Resistance record could sway in his favour the vote of even compromised Baudelaireans seeking to shelter from scrutiny their Vichy affiliations.
It is unclear at whose instigation Chanel was proposed as the Honorary Committee’s candidate. The composer Henri Sauguet (1901-1989) credited Jean Cocteau with the idea. The dancer Nina Tikanova (1910-1995), an ardent Gaullist, ascribed her nomination to Serge Lifar.
Natalie Barney’s Rue Jacob pavilion,
facing the Société Baudelaire headquarters.
Here, a campaign was hatched
for a rival candidate to De Gaulle
in the elections for the Société Honorary Presidency.
Renée de Saussine attributed its paternity to the entourage of Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge, subsequently corroborated by the latter. Whoever first suggested Chanel, all commentators concur in pointing to the patronage of the Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) as the decisive influence in Chanel’s consent to run as candidate.
Chanel set out on a two-pronged strategy. She first enrolled the support of Limouse, which he unhesitatingly bestowed on her committee, despite the resentment this aroused among Baudelaireans who backed the opposing committee. Chanel then prevailed on Limouse to defer the elections so as to afford a reasonable chance of dispelling her adversaries’ distorted representation of her.
The Duchess of Windsor, with the Duke.
She was President of the Chanel electoral committee
for the Société Baudelaire Honorary Presidency.
Her accusations of perfidious manoeuvring
were imparted to her friend and biographer, Lady Diana Mosley.
She also secured an undertaking that her committee would relieve her of the administrative chores. Renée de Saussine was appointed for this purpose. Chanel had been introduced to her by Count Etienne de Beaumont in the late 1920s. Renée had distinguished herself by her musical and literary talent, and also stood out for her unswerving anti-Gaullist stance.
Chanel had other things on her mind. She explicitly wished her candidature to be appraised in the light of her recently-expanded collection for The Flowers of Evil, complementing the stillborn 1937 project with twelve new dresses, but omitting the illustration of ‘Benediction’.
The collection retained the original theme – images of woman in Baudelaire’s poetry – now broadened to include the following poems:
Late in 1959, Chanel had yet to settle her choice of raiment to illustrate seven poems. This indecision she kept veiled in a communication concerning her design for the event, intended to celebrate the alliance of the poet and couturière.
Renée de Saussine,
daughter of Count Henri du-Pont-de-Gault Saussine
whose salon Marcel Proust had praised in his writing.
Once hailed by Saint-Exupéry as his “invented friend”,
Rinette was prevailed upon by Chanel
to win support for her candidature
in the Société’s Honorary Presidency elections.
She confided to Limouse her intention to launch a perfume alluding to Baudelaire’s writings. Chanel suggested four phrases ranked by preference from the author’s corpus. In furtherance of her election campaign, she also envisioned the laying of a swan-shaped spray of lilies at the foot of Baudelaire’s bust in the Luxembourg Gardens, in the company of her committee members. With a disarming lack of realism, she also expected the Luxembourg Gardens to be thronged by the ambassadors of countries where the Société Baudelaire was held in honour.
In March 1960, the opposing committee led by the Baudelairean Fumet alerted De Gaulle of Chanel’s intention to stand against him, impressing upon the General the considerable means she was bringing to bear, with the weight of a world-wide promotional campaign. No firm evidence subsists to indicate whether the General had any hand in subsequent events that sealed the fate of Chanel’s candidature.
a noted Roman Catholic Baudelairean.
Esteemed by De Gaulle,
he headed the General’s electoral committee
for the Société Baudelaire Honorary Presidency.
The poet Pierre Reverdy.
His reported backing of the committee
chaired by Stanislas Fumet – his “best friend”
in his own words – for the election
of General de Gaulle to the Honorary Presidency
ultimately parted Chanel from the Société Baudelaire.
The Gaullist committee sent word to Limouse that the list of its members was now complete. Consternation greeted the discovery of Pierre Reverdy’s name in the list. Foreseeing the blow to Chanel’s heart, the artist drew on every resource in penning the most tactfully moving letter. Breaking the news to her with the gentlest touch, he hinted that the Gaullist Reverdy might have lent his name to the General’s cause before her own name was put forward.
Renée de Saussine notified Limouse, on behalf of Chanel’s support committee, of her withdrawal from the election, entailing by the same token the cancellation of her fashion presentation. Secretly, she confided to Limouse that on reading his letter, the distraught Chanel, perceiving herself disavowed by one to whom she was still devoted, was unable to restrain her tears.
This tear-stained episode dissolved Chanel’s impassioned journeying with the Société Baudelaire. Reverdy died a few weeks later, and De Gaulle stood aside in favour of Fumet. "In his hollowed hand", Baudelaire took these tears wrung from one of the 20th century’s meteoric creators,