1916 Chanel design part of exhibition celebrating the iconic designer

First batch of exhibition tickets released this week already sold out.
Gabrielle Chanel, 31 rue Cambon, Paris, 1937. Photo by Roger Schall.jpg

Tickets for an upcoming exhibition at London’s V&A celebrating the life and works of designer Coco Chanel sold out in under a week. More tickets are expected to be released in June, as the museum releases more detail on the first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of the French couturière.

Featuring over 200 looks seen together for the first time, as well as accessories, perfumes and jewellery, the exhibition starts in September this year and will explore Chanel’s pioneering approach to fashion design, which paved the way for a new elegance and continues to influence the way women dress today.

Based upon the Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto exhibition organised by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, the exhibition will be re-imagined by the V&A. It will feature rarely seen pieces from the V&A’s collection, alongside looks from Palais Galliera and the Patrimoine de Chanel, the heritage collections of the fashion House in Paris. 

Highlights will include one of the earliest surviving Chanel garments from 1916; original costumes designed by Chanel for the Ballets Russes production of Le Train Bleu in 1924; outfits created for Hollywood stars Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich; an early example of Chanel’s ground-breaking evening trousers and ensembles from Chanel’s final collection of 1971.

Chanel designed first and foremost for herself. By creating clothes fit for an independent and active lifestyle, she anticipated the needs and wants of the modern woman. Through 10 themed sections, the exhibition will explore Chanel’s innovative approach to fabric, silhouette and construction, and will examine how she drafted a new framework for fashion in the 20th century. 

Showcasing a stunning array of some of Chanel’s most notable designs from her 60 years in fashion, the exhibition analyses her professional career, the emergence and the development of her style, and her contribution to the history of fashion. The exhibition will also highlight Chanel’s British inspirations, such as her adoption of tweed, partnerships with British textile firms and textile factory in Huddersfield.

“As one of the most successful fashion houses in existence, Chanel owes much to the templates first laid down by its founder Gabrielle Chanel, over a century ago. We are delighted to be partnering with Chanel and the Palais Galliera on this exhibition, which provides us with the opportunity to explore the origins and elements of this enduring style and to display little-known historic Chanel garments from the V&A collection,” Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, said.

President of Chanel SAS and Chanel Fashion Bruno Pavlovsky added: “Gabrielle Chanel was a legend in her own lifetime. This exhibition will analyse her contribution to fashion and her radical vision of a style that created modernity and reflected the aspirations of women and the evolution of their place in society.”

Ten sections to showcase Chanel’s skill

Split across 10 sections, the exhibition will showcase the exquisite skill and innovation from the founder of the House of Chanel.

Towards A New Elegance offers an introduction to the beginning of Gabrielle Chanel’s career as a milliner, opening her first boutique on the rue Cambon in Paris in 1910, and further boutiques in the fashionable coastal resorts of Deauville and Biarritz. The section outlines how the success of this business enabled her expansion into clothing. It will feature one of the earliest surviving Chanel garments, characterised by minimalism and precision – a streamlined way of dressing that contrasted with the excessively decorative fashions of the day, and would lay the foundations of her design principles.

The Emergence of a Style focuses on how Chanel developed an immediately identifiable signature style in the 1920s and 1930s. With clean lines, fluid materials and a simplistic colour palette, her understated designs were radical in their practicality yet displayed a refined elegance. Several sub-sections will also examine the role of textiles and manufacturing, her use of embroidery in her designs and spotlight Chanel’s famous little black dress. This section also includes Chanel’s British influences and business ventures, and her creations being worn on the theatre stage and silver screen.

The Invisible Accessory showcases the creation and impact of Gabrielle Chanel’s debut perfume N°5 which became the world’s best-selling fragrance. Designed as an extension of her clothing and echoing her vision of modernity, Chanel made N°5 the signature of her fashion house. This section will also explore the launch of Chanel’s range of make-up in 1924 and skincare in 1927.

Marie-Hélène Arnaud in a tweed suit from Chanel’s AutumnWinter 1959 collection and Chanel shoes, carrying the 2.55 Chanel handbag © CHANEL

Luxury and Line focuses on how Chanel’s eveningwear demonstrated a refined mix of inventiveness and classicism which subtly accentuated the female form. She harmonised proportions and materials aiming to create garments which expressed elegance, freedom and simplicity. The resulting designs conveyed the tension between garment and body, described in French as ‘the ‘allure’. This section will also look at Bijoux de Diamants, her first and only 1932 collection of fine jewellery commissioned by the International Diamond Corporation of London.

Closing the House will outline the impact of the outbreak of war in 1939 on her personal and professional life. The exhibition will continue with Chanel’s official Return to Fashion on February 5, 1954, with the relaunch of her couture house at the age of 71. Chanel’s return collection featured the signature hallmarks that she had so successfully introduced during the 1920s and 30s, representing her updated vision of the modern woman’s wardrobe.

The Suit will spotlight the defining garment of Gabrielle Chanel’s post-war contribution to fashion, with over 50 ensembles on display. A declaration of her vision of modern femininity, the Chanel suit combined ease and comfort with simplicity and style. Described by Vogue in 1964 as “the world’s prettiest uniform,” the Chanel suit, which has since become a timeless classic, remains a staple reference for fashion today.

Chanel Codes will focus on how accessories were fundamental to Chanel’s conception of a harmonious silhouette. They reflected her pragmatic vision of fashion and provided recognisable codes which underlined the unity of her style. Since the 1950s, the Chanel 2.55 handbag and two-tone slingback shoes have become two of the most enduring accessories in the world of fashion.

Into the Evening showcases evening wear as an important part of Chanel’s couture collections in the latter part of her career. From the late 1950s onwards, she adapted her suits to include a range to be worn into the evening. These cocktail suits followed the same form as her day suits, realised in a plethora of richly decorative fabrics such as gold and silver lamés, textured weaves and intricately patterned silks.

Costume Jewellery will explore this essential part of Gabrielle Chanel’s distinct style. Rejecting the conventions of fine jewels, Chanel gave costume jewellery a new status. From the beginning of the 1920s, Chanel’s boutiques offered a dazzling range of costume jewellery to wear with her sleek fashionable garments. The couturière’s costume jewellery drew inspiration from many places and historical epochs.

A Timeless Allure – the exhibition finale – celebrates the evening dress as Chanel’s exercise in style. She proposed a relaxed version of the formal dress that was both discreet and refined, revisiting the foundations that had governed her aesthetic and punctuated her career. This section will showcase that right up until her final collection of Spring-Summer 1971, Gabrielle Chanel reinterpreted, updated and perfected her rules and principles, continuously refining her quintessential style.

The exhibition takes place at the V&A Museum in London between September 16 and February 23, 2024. For other Pink features check out this interview about sustainable fashion.

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