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Chanel Fever is Sweeping London

“Fashion changes, but style endures,” Coco Chanel stated and London’s first exhibition dedicated to the designer, born Gabrielle in 1883, is testament to this.

Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto has opened in the V&A to sellout crowds. Like the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition in 2019, it’s a journey through Gabrielle Chanel’s life’s work, from the opening of her first millinery boutique in 1910, through to her final collection in 1971. What stands out is her singular vision and how timeless it proved. Coco’s famous passion for minimalistic style – “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance” – means even some of the oldest pieces could still be worn today, from her blouses, to her classic little black dress, revolutionary evening trousers, cocktail gowns and of course, the tweed suit.

Based on the smaller exhibition by Paris’s Palais Galliera, the London show includes hundreds of new items from the V&A’s archives, the Palais Galliera and heritage collections from Chanel.

It is divided into 10 sections, beginning with one of the oldest-surviving pieces – a silk jersey shirt from 1916. Coco’s vision for a complete wardrobe for women included make-up, perfume, bags, shoes and jewellery, and I would have liked to see more bags and shoes on display. It also bravely addresses the unfashionable period of Chanel’s history, when Coco was alleged to have been a Nazi colluder during World War II.

The exhibition staging, like the house of Chanel, is simple and elegant. Standout spaces include the Luxury and Line room, full of sparkling evening gowns, in the middle of which are two frocks worn by the fabulous-sounding Lady Minoru Foley, a young wealthy English widow celebrated as one of the best-dressed women in London in the 1920s.

The exhibition staging is simple and elegant. Picture: Peter Kelleher (V&A Museum).
The exhibition staging is simple and elegant. Picture: Peter Kelleher (V&A Museum).

Another room which makes you gasp, is The Suit, with its 50-plus suits lined up around the curved space, in a double-decker display like a giant Chanel colour chart. It’s just beautiful and the best example of how enduring her vision was, as you could happily wear every single one of them today.

It concludes in show stopping style with A Timeless Allure. The centrepiece to this room is the recreated mirrored staircase from the Paris atelier in Rue Cambon. During presentations, Coco would sit at the top and watch the reflection of the audience’s faces when the models appeared. You can’t help but feel she’d be heartened to see the reaction of visitors a century later, still sighing with delight at the spectacular evening gowns cascading down the stairs.

Even if this exhibition is the nearest thing most of us will ever get to donning a Chanel outfit, you still leave having learned a little sartorial lesson.

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous,” Coco said. This exhibition achieves both.

Source : ESCAPE