GABRIELLE CHANEL – FASHION MANIFESTO
The first week that the Chanel exhibition opened at the V and A in 2023, Claudia headed to London to take a peek. She shares why Chanel was so instructive to her in her early design days, and explores the highlights of the exhibition, including why she endures, with us here.
'The first statement that caught my eye explained 'Vogue said she understood that ‘accessories carry the mark of personality’
In all my talks on pearls, after proposing why pearls matter, taking listeners through their rich history and their historical value, when I talk about the founding inspirations for me to work with pearls, the first person I mention is Coco Chanel (as she was latterly known). I was taken, in the early years of researching design, by her ‘design’ mantra to create clothes fit for the way women lived their lives - who could play tennis in a girdle? This innovative thinking and simple purpose sparked a creative light in me, and has under-pinned all my design to date. Adapting the pearl, the oldest of gemstones, to how people live today felt a natural evolution. And I was excited by the idea of taking the pearl from fusty 'conformed dressing' to something vibrant and alive, and full of lustre and possibility; this has given CB jewellery a strong sense of purpose across the years.
I hope you will enjoy some of my personal highlights below:
This 1920's ‘blouse and skirt’ is the perfect rendition of Chanel’s style, modelled, as it was, on a tennis dress, it reveals the increasing popularity of sportswear for daywear. Sweaty Betty, you were not the first to this trend it seems! The straight fit and raised hemline also speak to the bachelor/garconne look. I wonder if this trend will be seen on the high street in Summer 2024?
The entrance to the V and A exhibition introduces the Chanel manifesto, describing Chanel ‘..who transformed women’s wardrobes with her innovative ideals and pioneering approach to fabric and construction. Chanel, who liked to wear her own designs, created clothes for active, independent women like herself. Her practical, stylish garments challenged the preconceptions of haute couture. She designed modern clothes according to principles of comfort, simplicity and ease of movement – the Chanel manifesto.’
For my part, I was fascinated by the exquisite detail in seemingly simple designs - finely stitched seams in the front of a dress giving subtle shape and sensuality; collar designs lending new sophistication; a clutch of organza roses on a shoulder. I loved seeing the sophisticated backs to her designs (which she created in the 30’s)– often a draped cape, or sinuous chain, integrated into the dress, creating movement and style and interest, and, it has to be said, a feminine contrast to utilitarian shapes. The V and A exhibition describes this as ‘allure’ – ‘In 1930’s her preoccupation with ‘line’ reached its peak. She created clothes of surprising purity, harmonising proportions and materials to achieve a tension between garment and body described in French as ‘allure’.
Personally I don’t love the tweed suits for which Chanel is so famous; but her adaptation of this famously masculine material is not to be dismissed. And it was interesting that it came so much later on in her career; she continued designing on into her 80’s and I particularly loved this short ensemble she designed age 85. (See pic of pink short suit below)
The exhibition also beautifully portrays her skilful interplay between restraint and profusion, and how she managed to create exquisitely pure eveningwear. As the originator of the ‘little black dress’ we have much to thank her for.'
Back of little black dress:
Pink short suit
CHANEL'S CAREER BIOGRAPHY - Claudia shares further details
'Chanel started out as a milliner, opening her first salon in 1909, in Paris. The success of this business allowed her to expand into clothing. The V and A notes write that ‘Chanel’s youthful designs in supple materials such as jersey were minimalist, a defiant contrast to the excessively decorative fashions of the day. Inspired by menswear and sporting clothes, her garments allowed for an ease of movement and were instantly popular with her wealthy clients’. Chanel marked social change as well; in the aftermath of the first world war women’s roles in society were changing, and this streamlined style of Chanel laid the foundations of her design principle.'
BRAND - it has certainly endured
'Chanel kept the simple, slightly masculine ethos running through Chanel, even to her packaging of her perfume. Her first scent was named No5 as it was the fifth perfume that she chose. The simple, visual identity of Chanel No.5 was a stark contrast to the highly decorative art-nouveau bottles of other perfumer, I think in today’s business parlance she would be described as a ‘disrupter’ in the market. It was thrilling to see in the exhibition the first bottle which had the eponymous interlinked double CC’s on the top of the lid. The first time this had been used… It was moving to see a picture, from 1944, of allied forces queued outside the Chanel boutique to take home bottles of the famous No.5.'
'This quote from Chanel, taken from advice she gave to editor Bettina Ballard seems to exemplify her enduring attitude: ‘Always dress to make yourself feel young – this means being free and easy and unpretentious in your clothes. You have to breathe and move and sit without being conscious of what you’ve got on.’ Initially I took this to mean you need to ‘look’ young; but I had misread the ‘feel’ young. I will hold on to this quote, which chimes with my hatred of being ‘dressed up’ and uncomfortable in myself. I aim for all my own pearl designs to update how you feel when you wear them, a bit closer to who you want to be, but never to be overpowering, just embellishing your spirit.'
'Of course Chanel is synonymous with pearls – and for that I am hugely grateful as she really breathed life into them. If you are keen to get a bit of the Chanel pearl look - we can of course help...As pearl specialists you can find anything you need within our collections, but perhaps, most usefully, our earring selection is a simple and easy way to get the Chanel look. Her long strings of pearls are easily achieved with our long pearl necklaces.'
So I will leave you with the final quote, which I may be biased in loving...'
‘From the start Chanel knew the importance of a handbag and shoes, jewellery and gloves… from as early as 1927 French Vogue praised Gabrielle Chanel for understanding that ‘accessories carry the mark of personality’.
Explore further here:
Midlife chic post on Mango and the pearl necklace Mango review – retailer spotlight - Midlifechic
Explore our long pearl necklaces here Long Pearl and Silver Necklaces by Designer Claudia Bradby – claudiabradby