Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Chanel means in the 21st century

French Vogue's March 2009 issue is dedicated to Coco Chanel, how her designs still influence modern designers today and how her clothes are still relevant to woman decades after "Mademoiselle" sent her first tweed suit down the runway.

It's perfect timing since the movie Coco Avant Chanel is set to debut in France (see the trailer here) and a new No. 5 campaign staring the movie's heroine, Audrey Tautou, has premiered.

It got me thinking about how Chanel, the designer, changed the way women dress, whether Chanel the brand still has relevance today and how modern women think about the label.

It was Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's suit that transformed forever the way women dressed. In the beginning of the 20th century, women still wore corsets. Chanel decided to free women from their restrictive garments and designed a suit that would allow easy movement and yet be stylish. Chanel herself called the suit, designer in 1913, as the "fashion statement of the century." She designed the suit in jersey, a fabric that was considered at the time to be cheap and demeaning. Flexible, simple and comfortable- the suit was a statement of defiance. Chanel later added tweed to her fabric of choice and it has become one of the most recognizable fabrics of the brand. The shape of the suit is boxy, with strict lines, a fitted cut, braid trimmings, cuffs, sleeves fitted at shoulder level, pockets and a chain sewed into the hem to allow the fabric to hang perfectly. The skirts are mountained on grosgrain at hip level.
Finally, freedom from corsets! Chanel said: "I gave women's bodies their freedom back; their bodies sweated under all the showcase clothes, under their corsets, their underwear, their padding."

So ladies, thank Chanel that we're not wearing corsets anymore!

It's thanks to her that I can wear blazers, jackets and t-shirts; in short, "manly" clothes and not be ridiculed.

Of course many women cannot afford actual Chanel suits; if you buy them straight from the boutiques they will cost you at least $5000. Pretty pricey especially in these tough economic times. Of course when you buy one it will last you forever. But there is the argument that any suit designed for women today has directly been influenced by Chanel.

But what of the real thing? Do women still lust after the Chanel suit? Does it still have relevance today?

After watching the Chanel Fall 09 show, I wasn't too sure that modern women would want one. To me, the suits seemed old, a bit gothic, too dark and too frilly. They were beautifully cut and had great details but it seemed as if the suits were channeling Mozart with the high-necked frills. In short, I couldn't see a woman in her twenties who would want to wear that.

Chanel Fall 09

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Many editors make a lot of the fact that the suit can be worn by women of all ages; especially if you take it apart and wear a jacket with jeans for example. But it's hard to get rid of the image of a snarky old lady with her pearls and tweed suit (Sex and the City's Stanford's mother comes to mind.)

But then you look at the wonderful ads with Daria Werbowy in her jeans and Chanel jackets and you think 'I could wear that.'

I realized it all comes down to one rule: Keep it young. Jeans can make anything you're wearing appear fresh and modern. Even if you're wearing a dark, tweed suit with long sleeves and ruffles; if you wear it with jeans, you're hip again. Add on some shades, killer heels and simple jewelry and you're ready for a fun night out.

And check out actress Anna Mouglalis in Chanel and jeans:

To me, Chanel will always feel like a classic, timeless brand that has impeccable quality, beautifully-cut suits and style ; but it just takes some extra care to make sure you still look your age.

Here are the amazing images from French Vogue's Chanel issue:

Claudia Schiffer and Eva Herzigova

Daria Werbowy
Edita Vilkeviciute

Iris Strubegger
Karlie Kloss

(Photos: The Fashion Spot)


s. said...

great piece.

love kloss in this.

Emma Robinson said...

Love all of them, great blog too!
xoxo Emma

take a look at my fashion blog: