For fashion lovers everywhere, Gabrielle Chanel is Paris personified, but her love of Venice also ran deep. La Serenissima was where, in her thirties, the couturière took a prolonged sabbatical as she mourned the love of her life, Boy Capel. The inspirations she gleaned from the city’s labyrinthine layout and its hallmarks —gondolier stripes, the emblematic lion, Byzantine mosaics, and Pala d’Oro, the jewelled altarpiece at Saint Mark’s Basilica—inform the Chanel allure to this day.
But she also embraced Venice for its social swirl. A favourite among high society, artists, actors, and other creatives, Harry’s Bar—a diminutive watering hole with an outsized reputation—has been a scene for nearly a century now, but never more so than during the Venice International Film Festival.
On Monday night, an intimate yet boisterous dinner hosted by Chanel at that celebrated haunt drew a constellation of stars, from icons like Tilda Swinton, Penelope Cruz, and Anna Mouglalis to a new generation of rising talents, including Sadie Sink, Italian actress Fotinì Peluso and the Swiss artist, author, and actress Kayije Kagame, one of the breakout stars of this year’s edition.
“My heart is beating so fast I can hardly get the words out,” said Kagame, who rose that morning at 4 am for a series of firsts—a first trip to Venice, first film festival, and the première of her first feature, Saint-Omer by director Alice Diop, which is in competition for the Golden Lion. “Here I am, and the magic is taking hold even beyond that,” she marveled as she recounted meeting a fellow guest, the writer, and director Rahmatou Keita, who knew her mother back in Nigeria.
Sink summed up her whirlwind visit in two words: “pretty surreal.” “It’s like stepping into a storybook illustration. There’s something magic in the air, so Venice and Chanel complement each other nicely that way.” The Stranger Things actress, who’s in town for the première of The Whale by Darren Aronofsky, said she was having fun “punking up” her looks, tonight accessorising her cotton tweed dress from the Spring-Summer 2023 pre-collection with a trio of Coco Crush ear cuffs. “I keep checking my ears,” she said. “It’s precious cargo.”
At just 23, Peluso already is no stranger to the festival, but she confessed to being starstruck at her first Chanel dinner in Venice.
Seeing Creative Director Virginie Viard and forever idols was a fangirl moment, she said, describing how she had babbled “like a five-year-old” when she met Cruz at the Métiers d’Art show in Florence last June.
As the sun set and guests spilled into the Calle Vallaresso—and occasionally even overflowed into Harry’s kitchen—the actress said the prospect of actually speaking to Swinton was giving her goosebumps. “I consider acting very important work, so it’s a little embarrassing to define myself as an actress because the real ones I admire, I can’t compare to that. I hope someday I can fit in it with ease,” she said.
Meanwhile, Swinton, her platinum shade cut streaked fluorescent yellow, was easing into “the business of getting a Bellini” with her oldest friend in the world, the director Joanna Hogg, in whose film, The Eternal Daughter, the actress stars.
“I’ve only been here 24 hours but it’s already a very special year for me,” she said. “We’ve literally known each other since we were ten, and when we first came here as teenagers, nearly 40 years ago, we pooled our money to buy a Bellini at Harry’s Bar. And now we’re here again, and to be here with our film is amazing. Venice always feels like an adventure.”
Mouglalis likewise evoked a homecoming, spiritually and sartorially. “Neo-realistic Italian film is my cinema ideal. As a true Mediterranean, that’s what made me want to act in the first place,” she recalled, noting that she also chose tonight’s Chanel haute couture ensemble as a “completely modern, completely Virginie” nod to Last Year at Marienbad, the 1961 Golden Lion winner that Chanel had restored in 2018.
“Venice is such a décor unto itself; it’s like this collective fantasy, one of the wonders of the world, a permanent aesthetic emotion, at least for me. Everywhere you look, it’s sublime, there’s always a story happening,” she offered as crowds began to disperse into the balmy night. “Tonight, I’m with people I love. It’s like one big family, and Venice is a party.”
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Penelope Cruz, Tilda Swinton
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Joanna Hog, Tilda Swinton
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Alma Noce, Fotinì Peluso, Valentina Belle
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Carly Sophia Davis
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This article was originally published on Vogue.com.