Monday, December 13, 2010

CoCo Chanel Part 2

As her fashion-conscious customers fled Paris at the beginning of the war, Chanel's boutiques in Deauville and Biarritz flourished. Chanel's uncluttered styles, with their boxy lines and shortened skirts, allowed women to leave their corsets behind and freed them for the practical activities made necessary by the war. Elements of these early designs became hallmarks of the Chanel look (1975.7; 1984.28a-c; 1976.29.7) Chanel took great pride as a woman in designing for other women, and by 1919, at the age of thirty-two, she enjoyed huge success, with clients around the world. Soon after, she relocated her couture house in Paris to 31 Rue Cambon, which remains the center of operations for the House of Chanel today.

A Style Icon

Chanel's own lifestyle fueled her ideas of how modern women everywhere should look, act, and dress. Her own slim boyish figure and cropped hair became an ideal, as did her tanned skin, active lifestyle, and financial independence. Throughout her career, Chanel succeeded in packaging and marketing her own personal attitudes and style, making her a key arbiter of women's taste throughout the twentieth century.

The designer's passionate interests inspired her fashions. Her apartment and her clothing followed her favorite color palette, shades of beige, black, and white (
1978.165.16a,b; 1984.30). Elements from her art collection and theatrical interests likewise provided themes for her collections (C.I.65.47.2a,b). When Chanel attended a masquerade ball dressed as a figure from a Watteau painting, she later reworked the costume into a woman's suit (C.I.54.16.1a,b). She hired Russian émigrés from her circle of friends to work in her embroidery workshop, creating designs to her exacting specifications. Known for a relentless drive for perfection, whether in design or fit, and strong opinions in all matters of taste, Chanel backed her clothing with the authority of her personal conviction.

Chanel continued to create successful looks for women through the 1920s and '30s. In 1926, American Vogue likened Chanel's "little black dress" to the Ford, alluding to its almost universal popularity as a fashion basic. In fact, the concept of the dress suitable for day and evening did become both a staple for Chanel throughout subsequent seasons and a classic piece of twentieth-century women's wear (1984.28a-c). The designer also used colorful feminine printed chiffons in her daywear designs (
1984.31a-c). Evening ensembles followed the long slim line for which the designer was known, but also incorporated tulle, lace, and decorative elements that soften and romanticize the overall look of the garment (1978.165.16a,b; C.I.46.4.7a-c).

The Closure and the Comeback

Despite her great success, Chanel closed the doors of her salon in 1939, when France declared war on Germany. Other couturiers left the country, but Chanel endured the war in Paris, her future uncertain. Following the end of the hostilities and resolution of some personal difficulties, Chanel found she could not idly stand by and observe the early success of
Christian Dior, whose "New Look" prevailed in the postwar period. While many admired Dior's celebration of femininity, with full skirts and nipped-in waists, Chanel felt his designs were neither modern nor suitable for the liberated women who had survived another war by taking on active roles in society. Just as she had following World War I, Chanel set out to rescue and reinvigorate women's fashion.

The designer faced challenges in this endeavor: securing finances, assembling a new staff, seeking out new fabrics, competing at age seventy against a new generation of designers. Chanel's comeback collection of couture debuted in 1953 (1976.370.2a-c). Although it was not a critical success, the designer persevered. Within three seasons, Chanel was enjoying newfound respect. She updated her classic looks, reworking the classic tweed designs until wealthy women and celebrities returned to the showroom in droves. The Chanel suit became a status symbol for a new generation, made of solid or tweed fabric, with its slim skirt and collarless jacket trimmed in braid, gold buttons, patch pockets, and—sewn into the hem—a gold-colored chain ensuring it hung properly from the shoulders. Chanel also reintroduced her handbags, jewelry, and

The Legacy Continues

Following Chanel's death in 1971, several of her assistants designed the couture and ready-to-wear lines until Karl Lagerfeld (born 1938) took over the
haute couture design in 1983 and ready-to-wear in 1984. Lagerfeld, like Chanel at the time of her comeback, looked to past designs for the secret to his success. His designs incorporated signature Chanel details, tweed fabrics, colors, gold chains, quilt-stitched leather, and the linked "CC" logo. In later collections, Lagerfeld became more irreverent, deconstructing some of the ladylike polish of Chanel's 1960s looks. Playing with the fact that Chanel's favorite jersey fabric had been used for men's underwear at the turn of the twentieth century, Lagerfeld even incorporated men's T-shirts and briefs into his designs (1993.104.2a-c). Nonetheless, Lagerfeld's ability to continuously mine the Chanel archive for inspiration testifies to the importance of Gabrielle Chanel's contributions to women's fashion in the twentieth century. with great success in subsequent seasons.

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883–1971) and the House of Chanel | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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