This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Chanel exhibit at the The Mint Museum featuring more than fifty works by the legendary French designer Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971). The collection was gorgeous, including delicate pieces from the 1930s to current works of art under the direction of Carl Lagerfeld. I believe the Chanel exhibit is traveling to different cities, but in case you don’t have a chance to view, here are some of the interesting facts and beautiful designs I came across. Enjoy!
Coco thought 5 was her lucky number and so named her iconic perfume, Chanel No. 5, after it. It has been in continuous production since 1921 and the house of Chanel estimates that a bottle is sold every 55 seconds.
Chanel began life as a poor orphan; yet by her late teens she enjoyed a lavish lifestyle as the mistress to a textile heir and lover of several French socialites. By 1913 Chanel opened a boutique in Deaville, followed by boutiques in Paris and Biarritz. She initially achieved fame in the 1920s for being a savvy businesswoman and creating unique designs (simplicity mixed with femininity) that liberated women from constricting corsets.
With the approach of World War II (1939-1945) Chanel closed her design houses. Her romance with a Nazi officer lead to her exile from Paris. Then, in 1954 at the age of 71, she returned to Paris and successfully promoted her two-piece suits. Twelve years after her death in 1971, Karl Lagerfeld took over as the lead designer of the Couture House of Chanel, continuing her iconic designs.
Some designs throughout the years:
Some of her earlier designs stray from the traditional tailoring of the two-piece suit in order to be more flowing and comfortable:
The Evening Dinner suit is an example of intricate tailoring and use of lace.
A sophisticated dress suit of the late 60s
Following Chanel’s death in 1971, her assistants Yvonne Duel and Jean Cazaubon became designers for the fashion house and continued the role for a decade until Lagerfeld became principal designer in 1983.
The attention to design is apparent in the coat construction below. There are hand-sewn “whip stitches” that affix silk tissue ribbon along the edges of the garment. Each enameled, dome-shaped button has a crystal center stone.
The elegance, structure and color of this evening Dinner Suit Jacket and Skirt from Fall/Winter 2003-2004 is a classic that could be worn forever.
Today’s Chanel is coveted by women of all ages and races. Chanel continues to evolve as a universal symbol for ladylike, sophisticated luxury.
I learned at the Mint exhibit that Chanel is credited for creating the term “little black dress.” Please check out my upcoming two-part series on wearable, LBDs, including the favorite black dresses of some fashionable friends.