London’s V&A Museum is celebrating Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s pioneering approach to fashion design with a new exhibition charting how the French couturière paved the way for a new elegance.
‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto,’ opens on September 16 and features more than 200 objects, many of which are seen together for the first time, including accessories, perfume, jewellery, and clothing, from the earliest surviving Chanel garments from 1916 to the designer’s final collection in 1971.
Based upon the exhibition organised by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, the V&A has reimagined it through the addition of rarely seen pieces from the museum’s archive, alongside looks from Palais Galliera and the Patrimoine de Chanel, the heritage collections of the fashion House in Paris. Oriole Cullen, curator of modern textiles and fashion and the V&A, explained at the press preview that items in the exhibition have been collated from 25 different countries worldwide.
The exhibition charts the designer’s evolution of her iconic design style, analysing her sixty years in fashion, her contribution to history, as well as the establishment of the House of Chanel, from her first millinery boutique in Paris in 1910 to her final collection. The V&A also spotlights Chanel’s British inspirations, such as her adoption of tweed, partnerships with British textile firms and a textile factory in Huddersfield.
Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, said in a statement: “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.”
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto opens at the V&A in London on September 16
Described as one of the most influential figures in fashion, the exhibition spans ten sections, exploring Chanel’s innovative approach to fabric, silhouette, and construction, as well as her use of embroidery in her designs, while also highlighting how she drafted a new framework for fashion in the twentieth century. Each room is dedicated to the French designer’s skill and innovation, highlighted by some of her most notable designs, from the Chanel suit to her little black dress and ground-breaking evening trousers.
Highlights include 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, early examples of Chanel's evening trousers, and the designer’s first and only 1932 collection of fine jewellery commissioned by the International Diamond Corporation of London.
One of the most striking rooms in the exhibition is the spotlight on ‘The Suit,’ described by Vogue in 1964 as “the world’s prettiest uniform”. There are more than 50 ensembles on display showcasing Chanel’s post-war contribution to fashion and highlighting how the simplicity and elegance of the Chanel suit have become a timeless classic and a staple reference for fashion today.
First exhibition dedicated to Gabrielle Chanel to be held in the UK at the V&A
Other standout rooms included an exploration of Chanel’s distinct love of costume jewellery and how eveningwear has become an important element of Chanel’s couture collections with an array of cocktail suits in a plethora of richly decorative fabrics such as gold and silver lamés, textured weaves and intricately patterned silks.
Alongside the fashion, there is a section dedicated to the “invisible accessory,” 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 highlights the launch of Chanel's range of make-up in 1924 and skincare in 1927.
The exhibition finale recreates the mirrored staircase from Chanel’s Paris atelier to celebrate the evening dress and Chanel’s exercise in style, focusing on how she proposed a relaxed version of the formal dress that was both discreet and refined.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel SAS and president of Chanel Fashion, said: “We are happy and honoured that the first exhibition dedicated to Gabrielle Chanel to be held in the UK, will be presented at the V&A, one of the most prestigious museums in the world. 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."
‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’ at the V&A Museum in London runs from September 16 to February 25.