Coco Chanel Information and Images



Coco Chanel Information and Images
Turnbull High School
Art and Design Department
Higher and Int 2
Design Studies
Coco Chanel
Turnbull High School
Art and Design Department
Coco Chanel (1883 - 1971)
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was born in Saumur, France and raised first in an
orphanage and then a convent. In Paris she worked as a milliner who began to
make dresses before ascending gradually to high society by socializing with
aristocrats and political figures.
Chanel can lay claim to having invented the look of the 20th century. At the
height of the Belle Époque she stripped women of their corsets and feathers,
bobbed their hair, put them in bathing suits and sent them out to get tanned in
the sun. She introduced the little black dress, trousers for women, costume
jewellery and the suit that became her trademark. She knew and collaborated
with Picasso, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Jean Renoir and Visconti; matching
their innovations by liberating women from the prison of 19th century fashion and
creating a whole new concept of elegance.
A modernist in the true sense of the word Chanel gave primacy to function and
materials. She promoted apparent simplicity in dress and adopted fabrics and
items more usually associated with the clothing choices of the working class (this
was linked to her upbringing as a descendant of peasant rural stock). She
tended to work against convention and prioritize the comfort and self worth of the
wearer through the use of a pared down glamour. Her skill was in constructing
wearable, basic, yet elegant garments and merchandizing them as elements of a
definable lifestyle
Chanel’s designs of the1920s are characterized by a straight, linear silhouette.
She experimented with textile and construction techniques more usually
associated with sporting and holiday garments. Groundbreaking designs include
jersey dresses with cardigan coats, an early example of the sportswear principle
of separates dressing. Her daring use of jersey fabric (at the time more
commonly applied to men’s undergarments and swimwear) allowed for greater
comfort, one of the hallmarks of the Chanel style. From menswear she also
borrowed the use of the colour black with contrasing white collar and cuffs, a
reference to dandy fashions. She drew inspiration from military uniforms and
combined details from tailoring and dressmaking. Chanel used serviceable
materials and relaxed patterns in the design of fashionable daywear for her
market; sophisticated urban women.
The little black dress was launched in 1926 – variations were available with
dramatic geometric chevrons and contrasting dull and shiny textures
emphasizing the flattering nature and expensive simplicity of the cut. The beauty
of this simplification in construction and decoration was that such designs could
theoretically be more usefully translated for the mass market. Though Chanel
never endorsed illegal copying of her collections she was aware of the positive
democratic connotations some of her styles carried.
Turnbull High School
Art and Design Department
In the 1930s Chanel’s dresses appear more feminine and romantic. However
even in these she asserted her modernism by revealing their construction –
exposing the seams and other “mechanics” of the garment. By this period her
name had become associated with a wholesale modernization of women’s
clothing reminiscent of Henry Ford’s impact on the automobile industry.
Chanel was suspected of associations with Nazism and spent several years in
obscurity. In 1954 she returned to couture and captured the American market
with her boucle suits and trademark handbags. When she died in 1971 her
successors in the company inherited a global high fashion business with a
profitable sideline in perfume, jewellery and accessories and potential for
expansion into ready to wear – all achieved through Coco Chanel’s personal
drive, creative vision and determination to triumph over adversity.
1916 – part of Chanel’s first complete
couture collection. Pockets were beginning
to appear on women’s garments. The war
made extravagance impossible and Chanel
provided women with versatile clothing in
practical colours
1922 – beaded and embroidered silk
evening gown. Shape is typical of the early
1920s, flaring from the hips to an uneven
hemline. There is a black silk chemise with
machine lace edged hem
1930 – multi-coloured wool jersey
suit. The long woven jersey jacket
with scarf collar has no buttons or
fastenings. The cuffs and two large
patch pockets are lined with yellow
jersey. The yoked skirt is pleated
from the hips. Beneath the jacket the
bodice of yellow jersey is made like a
man’s waistcoat with four pockets
and button fastenings
1937 – evening dress and cape. Much
of Chanel’s evening wear in the 1930s
was in this dramatic colour combination.
The full length dress is covered in black
sequins applied like fish scales with
scarlet silk satin panels and sashes. The
matching semi circular cape may be
caught at the neck with a hook fastening

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