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The House Wins: Chanel in Vegas

The French fashion house pulled out all the stops for the opening of its invite-only Numéros Privés exhibition.

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Elaine Wynn

Photo By Lexie Moreland

The scene last Friday morning at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport was a mix of tweed, cat-eye sunglasses and too-cool attitude, as a group of passengers — eight to a plane — boarded XOJets to find a Chanel gift bag on each seat. It was to be the first of many. Five hours later, a representative from the Wynn Las Vegas waited on the tarmac, greeting each person with an ear-to-ear smile and a room key. Everyone then piled into the idling black SUVs — with interlocking Cs plastered to the tinted windows — heading straight to the Wynn’s Tower Suites. No check-in required.

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Throughout the day, that drill was repeated more than a dozen times as guests flew in from Los Angeles and San Francisco for a nearly identical experience. Upon arrival to their rooms, yet another little black-and-white, logo-stamped bag awaited along with a voucher for a complimentary manicure and pedicure at the hotel spa. Those who indulged in the service said the salon’s usual nail polishes had been replaced with Chanel’s label for the weekend — all organized around the opening of the house’s Numéros Privés exhibition.

The standard “What happens in Vegas…” platitude was invoked countless times over the course of the next two days, often by Chanel publicists, who only half meant it. The point of throwing all this money around on an eight-day, invitation-only exhibition is to burnish the brand, to impress its “special friends,” for whom Chanel went to great lengths to ensure it was an experience they will remember for a very long time. Spreading the good word of Chanel. When they talk about it, they will only have nice things to say.

The house hosted just under 200 guests for the opening weekend with the option of flying back Saturday or Sunday. Before the installation closes on Saturday, 15 more private client events will have cycled through the Wynn, with VIPs flying in from Chicago and Dallas throughout the week. The festivities started Friday night at 7 o’clock with a cocktail tour of the installation’s 10 little rooms, done up according to house codes — one for handbags, another for watches, fine jewelry, fragrances, a children’s room of Bearbrick dolls and a re-creation of Coco’s apartment on Rue Cambon.

Barbara Cirkva, president of Chanel’s fashion division, said Numéros Privés had been under way for two years. If its slot on the calendar seems curious — sandwiched between the Sundance Film Festival and Paris couture, the latter which left Karl Lagerfeld otherwise engaged, prepping his collection for Chanel’s show today — there was a reason to the rhyme. Conceived as a play on lucky numbers (it’s Vegas!) the exhibition drew on the favorite digits of Coco Chanel, who apparently had a thing for numerology and astrology. Chanel No.5 was the fifth fragrance she tested. The famous 2.55 handbag was designed in February of 1955. The lion is a recurring motif because Chanel was a Leo, and so forth. Such superstitions dovetailed nicely with the Chinese New Year, which was in full swing in Vegas (it’s the Year of the Dragon) and apparently lures a high-rolling, big spending international crowd.

But Chanel needs no reason in particular to stage such a production. Remember the Mobile Art Pavilion of 2008? Something else is planned for Dubai in February. “We love to surprise and delight people,” said Cirkva. “We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do something like that but in Las Vegas?’ Because whenever anyone thinks about doing those things, they do them in New York, Paris or Beverly Hills. No one ever thinks about doing anything unique and unusual in Las Vegas, which is such an individual city of itself. It’s also kind of surreal.”

“Look! It’s like Disneyland!” said Tennessee Thomas as she approached the installation as the opening party kicked off. At the entrance was a gilded birdcage with pieces of fine jewelry locked inside. Surrounding it, a veil of long strands of pearls clacked in the breeze, deliberately engineered to produce that sound. “Great,” said Alexa Chung. “Let’s get a drink.” Cable Cars and Champagne circulated on silver trays while the guests milled through the rooms, most of them congregating in the space set up like a carnival, where lines were forming around a couple of old-fashioned claw games with the promise of more free stuff. Instead of cheap toys, the machines were filled with mini Chanel shopping bags, most of which bore things like mascara and lip gloss, but a few held some surprises: small leather goods, costume and — the grand prize — fine jewelry.

After cocktails, guests were led through a secret door and advised to watch their step through the garden before entering a tent set up like a retro nightclub. The tables were filled with a combination of the usual fashion party suspects — Hanneli Mustaparta, Harley Viera-Newton, Jen Brill, Derek Blasberg — and the real-deal VIPs, i.e., clients. Mark Pincus, chief executive officer of Zynga Inc., the internet sensation that created such addictive online games as FarmVille and Words With Friends, which just raised $1 billion last month in its initial public offering, seemed endearingly clueless about his surroundings. He was in from San Francisco on “date night” with his wife Alison, co-founder of Onekingslane.com. “Who are all these people?” he asked. “Are there celebrities here?”

At a table to his left were Jessica Alba and Brad Goreski. Straight ahead was Rachel Zoe. “Who’s Rachel Zoe?” said Pincus. Clearly someone doesn’t watch Bravo.

After Imelda May and her retro rockabilly band finished their set, the crowd thinned out. Those with the fortitude to continue headed to 1 Oak, which recently opened at the Mirage.

Saturday was more casual: Le Rêve followed by dinner at the Barrymore in the Royal Resort, a far more modest outpost than the Wynn. In the lobby was a rival party called Kiss. The sight of its patrons dancing around in light-up tutus, pink wigs and little else inspired a turn in dinner conversation toward the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo that was also in town. Then there was talk of other nocturnal activities of the traditionally Vegas variety.

Did somebody say strip club?

“What happens in Vegas!” went the publicists’ chorus. This time they were serious.

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