Gabrielle Chanel (1883-1971). French dressmaker, known by the nickname Coco. She is the inventor of some of the most important innovations in the fashion of the 20th century. This ambitious and determined woman, who had a poor and unhappy childhood, much of it in an orphanage, represented through her personality a new female model for the 1900s, one devoted to work, a dynamic and informal life, one led without concern for labels but endowed with self-irony. She gave this type of woman the most suitable way of dressing. Through her creations, Chanel completely transformed female elegance, no longer basing it on structural opulence and the ostentation of details and fabrics, but on simplicity and comfort. She modified the day dress, giving it a touch that was markedly casual and functional, and gave the evening dress lines that were fluid and reduced to essentials, introducing more comfortable and modern fabrics. The high fashion use of knitwear, at first hand-worked and later industrially manufactured, remains one of the sensational novelties proposed by Chanel. The mix of pieces derived from the male wardrobe with elements from the most traditional female wardrobe became a synonym of her style, such as the tailored suit composed of a man’s jacket and a straight skirt or trousers, which were until that moment part of men’s clothing. Chanel introduced these in every Collection, even for the most formal occasions. Starting in 1924 Chanel showed gaudy low-price jewellery to go with the basic cut of her clothes, disregarding tradition and proposing the democratization of clothing. Pearl costume jewellery, long gold chains, settings of real precious stones with fake ones, and crystals that looked like diamonds were the necessary accessories of Chanel clothing and recognizable signs of her griffe. Born on August 19th 1883 in Saumur, southern France, Chanel began her career designing hats, first in Paris, in 1908, and then in Deauville. In these towns, in 1914, she opened her first boutiques, followed in 1916 by a high fashion salon in Biarritz. From her very first offerings, Chanel showed an inclination for casual styles inspired by men’s clothing which, in open contrast with prevailing fashions, seemed to apply the healthy living theories of the early part of the century that promoted a healthy life in the open air and clothing that was mindful of the body’s needs. Knitwear immediately revealed its tailoring possibilities and in 1916 Chanel obtained from Rodier, a noted French textile industrialist, the exclusive for jersey, a new knitwear fabric made by machine. With it she carried out her program of daytime fashions that were lean and simple, characterized by a skirt, a pullover or cardigan, or a simple tight sheath dress. Her definitive launch in the world of fashion occurred in Paris in 1920, when she established her firm at Rue de Chambon 30. The following year she launched her first and most successful perfume, Chanel N.ú5, which was followed by many others, such as N.ú22 in 1922, Gardenia in 1925, Bois des ¦les in 1926, Cuir de Russie in 1927, Sycomore, Une Idée in 1930, Jasmin in 1932, Pour Monsieur in 1955, and N.ú19 in 1970. In the mid 1920s Chanel introduced a new type of day dress, the petit noir. It became a symbol of the decade, a modern version of the modest black dress with white neck and cuffs typical of shop girls and secretaries, and it was a tangible confirmation of an obstinate democratization circulating at the time of which the great dressmaker was a key interpreter. The Chanel tailored suit caught the attention of the female public thanks to the absolute simplicity of its line, the accurary of the cutting and the seams, and the use of soft and well-draping fabrics such as gabardine, cheviot, vicuna, and tweed, in addition to jersey, offered in a shocking mix of understated shades such as beige, grey, and navy blue. Chanel’s style is based on the apparent repetition of basic models. Variation is found in fabric patterns and details, according to her belief that “fashion passes, style remains.” In 1934 she developed her costume jewellery creations, opening a special atelier where she was supported by the talent of Earl Etienne de Beaumont and Duke Fulco di Ventura, and so, along side high fashion, she increased the production of accessories. In fact, the birth of her quilted bag with shoulder chain, copied by generations of producers, dates to 1930. In the middle of that decade, Chanel enjoyed her greatest fame. The atelier employed 4,000 workers and sold about 28,000 items a year all over the world. But the outbreak of World War II caused a sudden stop. Chanel was forced to close the headquarters on Rue de Chambon, leaving open only the perfume boutique. In 1954, when she returned to the world of fashion, she was 71. The press considered her to be at the end of her career and didn’t believe in her. But Coco’s new creation, the tailored knit suit of the N.ú 5 Collection&b;, was a success. Women all over the world fought to have one. And one of those was Jacqueline Kennedy. Chanel was new again, and she was unique. In 1957, Neiman Marcus honored her with the Oscar of fashion. Her style identified clothes and accessories which have become status symbols, such as the two-color sandal with closed front and open back, created for Chanel in the early 1960s by the French shoemaker André Massaro. After her death on January 10th 1971, the activity of the maison was continued by her assistants, Gaston Berthelot and Ramos Esparza, and by their collaborators Yvonne Dudel and Jean Cazaubon. In 1978, alongside the haute couture, the first line of prêt-à-porter, designed by Philippe Guibourgé, was introduced. Since 1983, for high fashion, and 1984, for prêt-à-porter, the brand has been designed by Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director of the maison. It is Lagerfeld who deserves the credit for interpreting Chanel’s values according to the needs of today, with constant innovation but leaving untouched Chanel’s unmistakable style. The Chanel brand has given birth, over the years, to several companies controlled by the family Wertheimer, and to a differentiated production that ranges from cosmetics to jewellery and watches. In 1997 Chanel acquired the French company Erès, specialized in bathing suits, and which has maintained its creative and commercial autonomy.
The bombé pattern of the famous Chanel matélassé is used on the eye glass frames of Chanel Vision, patterns that are geometric but smooth and rigorously linear, in an alternation of straight angles and sinuous round shapes in dark or metallic colors, with much gold and silver. Simple materials such as acetate and a very light tubular metal are used.
It is the first time that Chanel participates in the Donna Sotto le Stelle (Woman Under the Stars) on the stairs of Santa Trinità dei Monti in Rome.
The reopening in Milan of the historic boutique on via Sant’Andrea. This is part of a renovation of all the Chanel boutiques worldwide (there are 100), carried out by the architect Peter Marino, who wanted to follow Gabrielle Chanel’s philosophy that “the most beautiful things are the simplest, and nothing is as beautiful as an empty space.” Milan follows the renovations in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Vienna, and Mexico City.
The romantic Collection of Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel is presented at the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, in a completely exceptional setting: a completely transparent tent-structure very similar to a greenhouse, with roses, camellias, clouds of silk, and chiffon. The clothes have a thin and slender line, with extremely tight dresses that extol a very feminine but slim, threadlike, and long-limbed body. Soft and delicate rose petals, sugared or mother-of-pearl, sequin flowers on printed dresses, and on the head a very light camellia in layers of rose-colored chiffon. There are extravagant and original accessories: gold rings made of nails, palm bracelets, and winged shoes with titanium heels.
At an exhibition dedicated to diamonds (organized in Rome from March 1st to the end of June by the Scuderie del Quirinale in collaboration with the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle of Paris), besides the 30 historic Cartier jewels, and the De Beers Millennium Star, and the 30 paintings (among them the Portrait of Eleonora Gongaza della Rovere by Titian and the Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens), there stand out, among the 150 jewels, three masterpieces designed by Coco Chanel: the Étoile, a platinum and diamond brooch from 1932, created for the exhibition Bijoux de diamants; the Comète, a necklace composed of 650 diamonds of 70 carats, whose manufacture took more than 9 months; and a set consisting of a ring with 22 diamonds of 2.15 carats and a diamond of 1 carat in the center.
Karl Lagerfeld’s prêt-à-porter presented in Paris is made of several pieces that are easy to match, and very young and lively. It is a triumph of waistcoats combined with matching suits in bouclé wool, without sleeves, lined with matélassé (i.e., with quilted linings) in different colors. The Chanel jacket is always a main item, short or long, revisited, perhaps embroidered with sequins, with a tight skirt but also with jeans or leather pants. Lagerfeld has the merit of having maintained the style of the old griffe while each time inventing new variants. It is left to the accessories and the details to give a different look to the classic black crepe dress, to the velvet “Spencer,” and to the pleated skirt and muslin dress.
Début of the J12 wristwatch, a small jewel of high technology whose perfect circular shape is created in absolute black. Manufactured in the workshops of La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, it is designed by Jacques Helleu, who conceived it for men, although it also fits a woman’s wrist. Available in three different straps, is waterproof to a depth of 60.96 feet.
A prodigious shoe with a flying heel, providing miraculous balance. The sandal has a double sole separating the heel from the back of the shoe, leaving almost an inch of empty space on which the foot floats. To this apparent fragility there corresponds such solidity that the shoe can be worn for dancing a tango, a waltz, or the cha-cha-cha.
The prêt-à-porter for next Summer, more and more aimed at the youth market, has surrendered to the charm of the mini skirt, so improper and short that it hardly covers the bottom. Trousers are very tight and short, clown-like, exaggeratedly wide, in a denim-like fabric. For evening, there are voile dresses, embroidered or decorated with beads, and two-tone shoes with extremely high heels. The Chanel jacket is treated as an accessory to be worn with short skirts in voile printed with graphic motifs or with casual cotton trousers. The favorite colors are white and black, but also pink and brown.
For the film Gosford Park by Robert Altman, the actress Kristin Scott Thomas (who plays Lady Silvia McCordle) has personally chosen the jewels that she will wear: a necklace and matching earrings from the Fountain series, in platinum with 550 diamonds, and the Cosmos bracelet, with 850 diamonds. From the salons of the Ritz, in November 1932, to Altman’s movie, in 2002. Seventy years of history begun with a Collection designed by Coco Chanel, precisely in the year in which the film is set, 1932. The jewels are part of the historical archive of the maison.
During the Paris Fashion Week, Lagerfeld’s woman isn’t simply feminine, but ultra feminine. The classic Chanel tailored suit is smaller, tiny, and very short, in an infinite number of fabrics, including tweed, bouclé, leather, lace, and satin. High heels, black leather spats half way up the leg, and, once again following Mademoiselle’s diktat, string upon string of pearls and a cascade of gold chains.
The Metropolitan Museum of New York celebrates the French maison with a big retrospective called, simply, Chanel. It is a tribute which traces the path of the maison established by Gabrielle Chanel in 1920 up to today.