And the world met Coco
Coco Chanel is a style icon. Opinionated, stubborn and determined she altered the course of fashion history through her unique talent and eye for trends and social change. Early in her career, her brilliant business sense, was evident, as she went against the norm and used jersey. traditionally only used for mens underwear, it had a soft hand and flow, which for the bulk of her early clothing designs, worked perfectly. It was a unique choice, but the lower price-point of the fabric allowed for her keep working long after the First World War began. Often inspired by mens wear and comfort she sought ways to enhance the female form, her brand of clothing and accessories, all reflected a strong belief system about fashion, clothing, life and style. Coco Chanel once said that "Elegance is about refusal". Obviously she lived what she believed.
Women were still wearing constrictive undergarments and 'costumes' with long skirts, although sometimes made of chiffon or silk, usually, day clothes were most often rough, stable fabrics, cottons, linens, or twill. The piecework in this jersey dress (on display at the Metropolitan Museum in 2010) shows her extensive knowledge and ability to utilize piecework for styling and fit. Using the natural stretch of the jersey allowed the dress to hug the body, while still allowing for free unrestricted movement. The ruffled details draw the eye upwards to the face to elongate the body, forming the 'magic Y" .These are important details to enhance the female form, making it appear taller and thinner without the use of corsets and bindings. The meticulous attention to detail, fit and style became her trademarks.
By 1926 she knew she had established a strong name the design house when American Vogue called her LBD (Little Black Dress) a "Classic Ford" (American Vogue, 1926). Simple and elegant lines, were not the norm, but Chanel "wanted to give women comfortable clothes" after all 'a woman is closest to being naked when she is well dressed".
The LBD (day version), is just as stylish today as it was in 1927. The three-sided vantage point shows the elements that are still in use today, a slightly longer back, looser fit and dropped waists have been showing up in recent shows. Fitting details include pintucks to fit the back, shoulders, and wrists, traditionally used with fine cottons or silks, in lingerie. Bias bindings to encase the neckline and hems, another technique traditionally used with fine sewing. Black was historically, only worn by those in mourning, Chanel brought it into daytime, for the elegant and style conscious.
The fabric's fluidity for women's day wear was remarkable. We see in her designs that the woman's form, was the center of the design. Although, she is known as the designer who made clothes for her own body type, those who were slight, and of small stature could appreciate clothing that to not overwhelm them. In the movie Coco, she states "why should men have all the comfort" she goes on to state "these distasteful styles made me seem powerless " (paraphrased from Coco-The Movie, English Translation )
The left design is an original by Coco the right is by Karl Langerfield
The house of Chanel closed its doors, in 1939, at the onset of WWII , she stayed out of the fashion industry, until Dior's "New Look" became the rage. While she took no offence to style or the designer, the Metropolitan Museum states her as saying "his designs are neither modern nor suitable for the liberated woman" ( metmuseum.org) what she did feel was the constraints of couture houses dictating fashion.
"I don't do fashion... I am fashion" Coco Chanel
In 1953, at age 70, she reopened the doors to Chanel Couture. It took three seasons for her new suits of tweed, braids, chains without collars and slim fitting skirts began to gain popularity. The one identifying feature of a Couture Chanel is the embedded chain in the hem. She invented this technique ( those of us, who design and sew are in awe) and anyone who has ever tried on an original Chanel piece can appreciate the masterful way the coat hugs the frame from the shoulder.
She continued her work until her death in 1971, always stylish and always expressing herself through her clothing. There are few women who have had the impact that Coco Chanel did, and while there are many stories that surround her personal life, the one thing we know about Coco was her undying sense of style and her strong independent spirit pushed the social boundaries towards clothing, her legacy reaches much farther than the 20th century, for the unique timeless quality, its practicality, but more so, because she used clothing to aid women in attaining personal style, liberation and freedom of choice to dress for their body type and lifestyles. A monumental feat for one woman. There is little doubt that her unique world view and ability to change the face of fashion, no matter what the age, makes her irreplaceable.