November 09, 2012

Chanel: A Couturière in Profile


Coco Chanel circa 1929.

 It is inarguable that the practical, yet multi-faceted, elements of Coco Chanel’s influence of style cannot be untangled from her personality. Chanel was a pioneer not only in the design of women’s couture, but also in the development of business and fashion merchandise operations in the post-war era. It was uncommon for her to draw her designs, and she preferred instead to position her stylistic visions on the human body rather than on the sketching pad. Chanel’s design choices of simplicity and comfort were not lost on Parisian women, and in 1919, she opened the couture house which she had aimed to create before World War I.

The sensible aspects of Chanel’s designs, including pockets for utility and practicality, costume jewelry as a replacement of precious gems, and men’s sweaters, contributed to a certain air of realism and sophistication. The clothes she created were of an easy, fairly relaxed fit, with an elected understatement to correspond to the challenges of the times. The working class also provided a creative source for Chanel’s ideas. She used components of men’s sweaters and of mechanics’ overalls to achieve a mathematically simple idea of style. But this vision was not to be without a prevailing sense of femininity. This was seen in the tailored wool suits Chanel favored, in the oversize cardigan sweaters without excessive ornamentation, and in the reductionist components of an easily translatable and socially empowering aesthetic.


The geometric lines for which Chanel is known can be seen in this emerald mini dress from the 1990 collection. A utilitarian choice of an emerald color scheme with navy blue lining along the neck, cuffed wrists, pockets, and hem, the design is archetypal of Chanel’s erudition in a comfortably structured manner for women active in social and professional life. A subtle sex appeal completes the design, as the thigh-high hem diverges from the restraint of the reserved round neckline.

Another design, a tribute to the well-known Chanel quilted suit, is a pink and mocha crocheted suit with an accommodating fit, rectangular pocket flaps, and solid brass buttons to parallel the rigidly grand presence of the suit. Indeed, the house of Chanel envisioned the creation of apparel as a fairly democratic exercise, and Chanel herself transcended the impenetrably elite boundaries of stylistic perception by licensing her name to companies which catered to the middle market.

A study in contrasts, Chanel’s progress addressed pragmatism and sophistication, unapologetic realism and constructed textile imagery. Her work blurred the traditionally accepted definitions for the constructed apparel and accessories previously available to women. Chanel’s essence of style and artistic impact continue to inspire modern visionaries, and her ideas of straightforward, effortless, and uncluttered panache endure to challenge perspective and convention in design.

-Blog post contributed by Ivayla Ivanova

 1929 Coco Chanel portrait from Chanel: A Woman Of Her Own by Axel Madsen

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