Paris Art in the Shape of Chanel

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The Arab World Institute, in Paris, is hosting a mobile art pavilion by Zaha Hadid

Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects and L'Institut du Monde Arabe.

Born in Baghdad and based in London, Zaha Hadid is the rock star of architects. As flamboyant in her dress as in her buildings, she makes fluid, sculptural works famous for setting new standards. With her Mobile Art pavilion now open to the public, even Paris art snobs have to admit Hadid is hot. After all, a visit to this new gallery space is one-of-a-kind.

The Arab World Institute, in Paris, is hosting a mobile art pavilion by Zaha Hadid

Image by Steve Sampson.

It was Karl Lagerfeld who decided that Chanel should back such a creation. He wanted it to travel the world, displaying the label’s best. To realize his vision, he commissioned Hadid—whose architecture Lagerfeld has compared to “the greatest poetry.”

The Arab World Institute, in Paris, is hosting a mobile art pavilion by Zaha Hadid

Image by Steve Sampson.

The structure itself was directly inspired by the label’s famous handbag. “Chanel,” says Hadid, “reinvents itself every season. But it has its icons: the bag, the camellia, the jackets, the little black dress. So I wanted to be iconic too. I wanted a piece of art, a space that changed with every exhibition. ”

Having taken Chanel across the globe, the space is now settling here. Installed as a piece of Paris art next to the Arab World Institute, it looks like an exotic UFO that has just landed. A gift from Lagerfeld to the Jean Nouvel–designed institute, it is a fabulous addition to an existing monument.

The Arab World Institute, in Paris, is hosting a mobile art pavilion by Zaha Hadid

Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects and L'Institut du Monde Arabe.

All summer it will host a show about Hadid, the first exhibition of her work ever held in France. For Parisians, its allure is just what they love in Chanel: the seamless marriage of style and luxury. Everything from the climate (perfumed air-conditioning!) to the innovative displays and decor makes this space and its expo a treat.

All the work on exhibit is also ultramodern. Hadid’s achievements unroll on screens that are part of the structure, alongside maquettes, digital models, art and sculptures. The show is also quite an exotic voyage. It takes you from projects in Barcelona and Beijing to Abu Dhabi, Cairo, London and Moscow.

The Arab World Institute, in Paris, is hosting a mobile art pavilion by Zaha Hadid

Image by Steve Sampson.

This singular art space may be unique in Paris—but Hadid’s creations are not its only draw. The institute itself (a partnership between France and 22 Arab countries) has offered great shows and concerts for years. However, many visitors come just to see Nouvel’s amazing building—especially the breathtaking view from its ninth-floor terrace. Although that floor is also home to the restaurant Le Zyriab, even diners can’t resist grabbing a quick photo.

The Arab World Institute, in Paris, is hosting a mobile art pavilion by Zaha Hadid

A view of the Arab World Institute from the pavilion. Image by Steve Sampson.

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Other reasons you should see this Paris art treat: it’s an easy, pleasant walk from Notre Dame and you can spend the evening at nearby Restaurant l’Atlas. One of the most beloved Moroccan dineries in Paris, L’Atlas is steps away from the institute. Continue your travel fantasy in its carved white stucco confines (or on its boulevard St.-Germain terrasse). Its tasty couscous and tagines are impeccable, plus there’s a wide choice for vegetarians. It’s hard, however, not to recommend couscous with merguez or a lamb tagine sweetened with coing (quince). My fave is the simplest couscous, aromatic comfort food. On weekend evenings, play it safe with reservations (01 44 07 23 66).

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Before you go, check out a documentary on Hadid, either A Day with Zaha Hadid (Michael Blackwood Productions) or Zaha Hadid (Illuminations Media).

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To learn about couscous as culture, watch Abdelatif Kechine’s award-winning film La Graine et le mulet (in English, The Secret of the Grain).

Related links:

Zaha Hadid

Chanel Mobile Art pavilion

Arab World Institute

Jean Nouvel

Le Zyriab

Restaurant l’Atlas

A Day with Zaha Hadid

Michael Blackwood Productions

Zaha Hadid

Illuminations Media

La Graine et le mulet

Editor’s note: Haute couture fan but without the pocketbook for it? Download our Walk and Shop the Marais tour to discover the newer, lesser-known designers of the haute Marais.

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