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Friday, September 22, 2023

Unveiling Coco Chanel: The Retrospective Exhibition in London

LifestyleFashionUnveiling Coco Chanel: The Retrospective Exhibition in London

London is set to be enraptured by the enduring legacy of one of fashion’s most iconic figures, Coco Chanel. A comprehensive retrospective, opening this weekend, offers a deep dive into the life and times of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, more fondly known as “Coco”. This profound exhibition charts her six-decade-long journey that not only redefined women’s apparel but also unearthed new revelations about her intriguing wartime affiliations.

Coco Chanel’s passing in 1971, at the age of 87, did little to diminish the impact she left on the world of fashion. She is synonymous with chic tweed suits and the coveted quilted bags that have become staples in the wardrobes of many. Oriole Cullen, a noted curator for modern textiles and fashion at the hosting venue, remarked, “She is an emblematic figure in Western fashion. Even today, her influence is palpable in modern design.”

The exhibition, titled “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto”, is a brainchild of the Palais Galliera, a revered institution dedicated to fashion history in Paris. Visitors will journey through Chanel’s life, from her humble beginnings in 1910 with a millinery shop in Paris, to her final collection in 1971. On display are over 200 outfits that showcase her unparalleled ability to merge comfort with elegance, giving women clothing that was both sophisticated and functional.

An early highlight is a 1916 sailor blouse crafted from delicate silk jersey, previously only associated with underwear and hosiery production. This blouse, inspired by fishermen’s attire, underscores Chanel’s knack for transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. By the 1920s, she had secured her position as the top couturier globally, her ‘little black dress’ epitomizing timeless elegance. In fact, American Vogue, in 1926, extolled it as a garment poised to gain universal appeal.

Beyond clothing, Chanel No 5 perfume, introduced in 1921, captured the adoration of global icons like Marilyn Monroe and the late Queen Elizabeth. Decades later, it still reigns supreme in the world of fragrances.

Born into modest circumstances and raised in a convent, Chanel’s life was a montage of contrasts. She frequently mingled with British high society, sharing frame-worthy moments with eminent personalities like Winston Churchill and making appearances at renowned events like the Ascot horse races.

The Second World War era brought tumultuous times for Chanel. She closed her flagship store on rue Cambon in Paris, only a short distance from the Ritz hotel where she resided. The exhibition intriguingly delves into her controversial romantic involvement with a German embassy attaché, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Despite her known associations with the enemy, freshly uncovered documents suggest that Chanel might have been part of the French Resistance, with certificates from the 1940s attesting to her membership.

Post-war, Chanel departed for Switzerland but staged a triumphant return to fashion in 1954, aged 71. Her introduction of the tweed suit was a sensation, with Vogue lauding it as the epitome of elegance. The current exhibit showcases 54 iterations of this suit, highlighting the beige ensemble Chanel donned in 1958.

Attendees can also admire exquisite Chanel evening gowns, crafted in shimmering lamé, and witness a recreation of the iconic staircase from her rue Cambon address, believed to be her secret vantage point to watch clients, unseen, through cleverly placed mirrors.


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