Friday, 5 November 2010

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel: Fashion
In the throws of some 1920s research to contextualise the jewellery I've been making, I came often across the icon who is Coco Chanel. So I thought I would write a post about her, because a lot of the thing I came across surprised me.

What I associate with the brand 'Chanel' is elegance, luxury and expense. But that is only half the story. I should just add that I haven't seen the film 'Coco avant Chanel', but I'm guessing most people are familiar with the notion she is a rags to riches story. From orphanage taught to sew by nuns, to, arguably, one of the most recognisable fashion brands in the world. I was, however, her approach to fashion which surprised me.

She is credited with being one of the first to oppose the 19th century silhouette doing away with thing like corsets and creating garments that were practice and easy to wear... not exactly what I think of Chanel for! But that was her campaign – using boyish shapes (the flapper dropped waist) and free flowing garments, her first Little Black Dress was known as ‘Chanel’s Ford’ for it’s simple lines and easy wearability.  

She said that “Elegance is refusal” ie: simplicity is the best way and she carried this into her fashion design. She used embroidery and beads sewn on to create detail instead of the usual padding, lace and ruffles. She popularised costume jewellery and particularly the many strands of long pearls that are currently in fashion, apparently an odd number of strings was considered most elegant. And she counselled “Always take off the last accessory you put on” – less is more.

Her views on luxury are also in opposition to the hedonism we usually associate with the 1920s, particularly in France the Ballet Russe etc. She said: Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity”.
And finally, of designing dresses she said: look for the women in the dress, if there is no woman, there is no dress”. This is something for anyone designing things to keep in mind, if you can’t imagine a person wearing it then something has gone astray.


  1. Coco is on my short list is most amazing women ever. Did you know she invented the cardigan? She stole her partner's sweater and cut it down the center. My wardrobe is entirely based off that one slice o' the scissors!

  2. Really? But that's revolutionary! Cardigans rule!