Vicqui’s Edit: History Behind a Look-The Chanel Look

Aware of the changing way of life and its economic and social requirements Chanel produced clothes as smart, uncluttered and functional as the new architecture.

Joan Nunn, Fashion Costume 1200-1980

Throughout my fashion life I’ve imitated quite a few looks, including Edie Sedgwick’s Factory gear and Grace Jones’s androgyny, but none have been as long lasting as Coco Chanel’s signature LBD’s, two-piece skirt suits, wide-leg pants, costume and real jewelry and two-tone shoes.

Black two-piece Chanel ensemble (ca. 1927)

Perfect as a go-to look, it’s comforting to know I can throw on a tweed-y Chanel thrift store blazer, white tee, baggy jeans, gold chain belt and ballet flats and look as fabulous as Madame Coco.

Black Chanel evening dress, ca. 1929

So how did her look evolve? Here are some of the highlights:

  • 1914: After Chanel opened shops in Deauville and in Rue Cambon in Paris she became a top couturière that “epitomized the look of the 1920s.”
  • 1920s: She designed “jersey dresses that stopped at the knee with matching cardigans, and short skirts accessorized with tiny hats, costume and real jewelry.” “Aware of the changing way of life and its economic and social requirements she produced clothes as smart, uncluttered and functional as the new architecture,” wrote Joan Nunn in “Fashion Costume 1200-1980”.
  • 1926: She reinvented women’s wardrobes forever when she created a “crêpe de Chine black dress complete with minuscule tucks in a matching triangular design on the bodice and the skirt.” Prominently featured in “Vogue” magazine this little black dress or LBD became known as “the model T Ford of fashion.”
  • 1929: The end of the 20s found Chanel looking towards the future when women’s styles became less angular. Embracing an easier silhouette she designed a “jersey suit with a striped pullover.”
  • 1954: Following World War II Chanel reopened her couture house and premiered an “understated two-piece skirt suit trimmed in braid.”

All Photos courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Digital Fashion Sourcebook

Victorian Mourning Dress

Mourning one’s dead, during the Victorian era, was a serious undertaking especially for women. One of the most famous widows, Queen Victoria, was so bereft after her husband Prince Albert died in 1861, she wore black “widow’s weeds” until her own death. Mourning dress was primarily black, and worn to isolate the mourner from the public during a time of sorrow.

Mourning Dress, ca. 1894-95 British, silk, formerly owned by Queen Victoria

Divided into two successive stages- “first”and “second”-the fabric utilized had to have a matte, non-reflective surface. The first photo from 1880, is French, created from “medium silk” and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Department. A dark palette, with somber details were replicated with dramatic appeal in Thom Browne’s Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear collection. The photo of the off-the-shoulder dress, next to the French Mourning Dress, is long, nipped in at the waist, and has tight fitting sleeves. This garment has the same austere fit as the classic 1880’s Mourning Dress, but the off-the-shoulder collar and shorter hem length gives it a contemporary edge.

Edwardian Shirtwaist Blouse

From 1890 to 1900 a societal and economic shift occurred, whereby women joined the working world and they needed something to wear. At times called a “bodice” and at others a “blouse” the Edwardian shirtwaist solved this problem.

Designed as a simple button-down it reflected the straight lines of the Neo-classical movement, and with the fanciful “silk and lace trimmings” the curvy, naturalistic signature of art nouveau. For Spring 2016, Zimmerman’s Master and Mischief Ready-to-Wear collection recalled the blouse with romantic high-necked collars and ruffles.

In photos one through three the classic shirtwaist can be seen, then in photo four it’s shown as a more updated, contemporary garment that’s just as lovely. By maintaining the traditional features, of the blouse, using beautiful, nostalgic textiles and redefining its original purpose, Zimmerman has updated without losing any integrity.

Harem Pants

French fashion designer, Paul Poiret, was determined to do two things in 1911-free women from their corsets and design an exotic, comfortable garment. Taking his passion for “Orientalism” into consideration he designed the juke-culotte (harem pants) thereby introducing Western women to a new way of dressing.

Fitted at the waist, full and voluminous at the leg, and tight at the ankle, they allowed the wearer the freedom of movement. In 2014 Maison Martin Margiela’s Artisanal Line for the Spring/Summer season introduced a collection that included wide-legged pants in the mode of Poiret’s harem pants.

While each creation features a fitted waist and spacious leg section, Margiela eliminated the ankle tightness and let the fabric flow into a natural long hem length. Margiela’s striped pants, in photo three, also deviate why having roomy side pockets. The light fabric and easy flow of the silhouette do ultimately connect the two designs and reflect Poiret’s vision and inspiration.

Ivy Style

Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear collection embraced the “Ivy Style” of the 1920s then added plenty of contemporary twists. A red parka added over the otherwise traditional pairing of stripes, knits and heritage print trousers brings the look, in photo two, up to the present.

Initially the “Ivy Style” was a type of casual dress adopted by college students in the 1920s in reaction to their parents’ more formalized wardrobes. A precursor to sportswear, it’s come to personify the American look.