ELLE meets Sam Taylor-Johnson

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They don’t let just anyone into Coco Chanel’s apartment on Rue Cambon, you know, but Sam Taylor-Johnson, artist turned film director, is one of the chosen few. Four years ago her friend, Justine Picardie, wanted some photos of the rooms for a biography that she was writing about the famed designer and duly called in a favour. Sam spent a weekend holed up in the apartment with her husband, Aaron, and took pictures so beautiful that Karl Lagerfeld insisted that they stay out of the book and become the focus of a separate exhibition.

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Et voila, ‘Second Floor’ opens at the Saatchi Gallery tomorrow. There are two rooms lined with 34 huge photos of intimate corners of the rooms that Mademoiselle made her own. Lit only by the natural light inside the apartment and printed on meticulously chosen paper, the images are dark and painterly and offer a new insight into the private world of Chanel.

‘I went in completely naïve, I didn’t know that much about her or have any baggage,’ Taylor-Johnson tells us.  ‘Being able to go in there without too much sense of her and then discover things that I didn’t expect was really lovely. I never really thought she was going to be a mystical, spiritual person.’

As well as shots of whole rooms and that famous mirrored staircase, she’s honed in on details and objects that really caught her eye – Aaron even spotted the shape of the Chanel no5 bottle in the pattern etched into a Coromandel screen. Her favourite pieces? ‘The crucifix that’s so worn that you can see someone has prayed and prayed and prayed with it. And the lion crystal ball. I picked it up once and had to put it straight back down. It felt like it wasn’t mine to hold, that I’d had my wrists slapped.’

‘Second Floor’ runs from 12-4 October 2014 at the Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road, London.

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