V&A puts Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel in focus

August 31, 2022

Three jersey outfits by Coco Chanel; Illustration published in Les Elegances Parisiennes, March 1917

The V&A is to stage the first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of French couturière, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, charting the evolution of her iconic design style and the establishment of the House of CHANEL, from the opening of her first millinery boutique in Paris in 1910 to the showing of her final collection in 1971.

Featuring over 180 looks, seen together for the first time, as well as jewellery, accessories, cosmetics and perfumes, the exhibition will explore Chanel’s pioneering approach to fashion design, which paved the way for a new feminine 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 for the V&A and 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. Key pieces on display will include outfits created for British model Anne Gunning (later Lady Nutting) and Hollywood stars Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich.

Bruno Pavlovsky, President of Chanel’s Fashion and President of Chanel SAS says, “Gabrielle Chanel boldly redefined the modem women’s wardrobe. We are honored and delighted that the V&A such a world leading museum and great institution, will stage the first IJK retrospective of her work by showcasing her contribution to the history of fashion as well as the incredible relevance and permanence of the Chanel style, this exhibition will highlight one of the greatest visionaries of our time.”

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 eight 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 twentieth 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 exhibitionwill also highlight Chanel’s British inspirations, such as her adoption of tweed as well as other British-made textiles.

The exhibits chart the evolution of Coco Chanel's iconic desgins.

The exhibits chart the evolution of Coco Chanel’s iconic desgins.

Director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, explains, “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 or 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.”

Adds the Director of the Palais Galliera, Wren Arzalluz, “Gabrielle Chanel devoted her long life to creating, perfecting and promoting a new kind of elegance based on freedom of movement, a natural and casual pose, a subtle elegance that shuns all extravagances, a timeless style for a new kind of woman. That was her fashion rnanesto, a legacy that has never gone out of style.”

“Her success was based not only on the functionality, comfort and chic elegance of her designs, but also on her ability to grasp and interpret the needs and desires of the women of her time.”

More information and details visit V&A here.

All Images: V&A and Chanel archives (Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifestoat the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 16 September 2023 -25 February 2024)

The Front Row Team

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