Designer Profile : Chanel

Chanel is undoubtedly the most typically French of France’s fashion houses. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel opened her first store in 1909 with a desire to create a brand based on effortless elegance, and few people would argue that she didn’t achieve this. No longer did women have to wear tight, restrictive corsets, but simple man-like suits and clean, long dresses instead. When most people think of Chanel today, they think of the iconic 2.55 bag – for anyone who doesn’t know the name (coined after the date it was created, February 1955), you’d definitely recognise the bag: quilted leather with chain straps and the interlocking CC clasp, which has spawned innumerable copies on the high street.

Chanel grew up in an orphanage, and the chain on the 2.55 bag was inspired by the chain that her carers there used to carry their keys on. Having shoulder straps was revolutionary, as previously bags were only made to be carried by hand. The burgundy lining was also inspired by Chanel’s childhood, as this was the colour of the uniforms she had to wear at the orphanage. Then there’s the classic quilted leather. This idea came from the quilted coats that jockeys and stable boys used to wear, and was something that had rarely been seen anywhere else (but seems ubiquitous now in Barbour jackets and their copycats). There is also a secret little zip pocket inside the main flap that was apparently made to store Chanel’s illicit love letters, and the outer pocket was for keeping money. Chanel clearly wanted her fashion to be practical and useful in a woman’s everyday life as well as stylish. The well-known interlocking CC clasp was only introduced in 1983, when Karl Lagerfeldbecame the driving force behind Chanel. Previously the clasp had been simpler, and is now known as the “Mademoiselle” clasp. The interlocking CC is now so celèbrearound the world and in all walks of life that for most women it’s très difficult to resist.

Chanel nowadays is a fashion fave of the A-list around the world, and is known for its high profile spokesmodels, from Marilyn Monroe (Chanel No. 5 perfume in the 1950s) to Blake Lively (the current face of the Mademoiselle handbags). However, Chanel makes sure to remain a proudly French brand, with its flagship store on the Rue Cambon in Paris. Having been lucky enough to spend a few hours there getting lost in the world of Chanel, I can safely say that it is the most beautiful shop I have ever been in. Chanel remains an exclusive luxury brand throughout the world (how often do you actually see a Chanel shop?), aided by the fact that the rights to Chanel cosmetics and fragrances are held by Chanel only. There are 310 Chanel boutiques around the world, mainly in up-market department stores.

The Chanel ready-to-wear collection for Spring Summer 2012 was unveiled last autumn in the Grand Palais in Paris, excitedly drawing in everyone in the fashion world to discover Karl Lagerfeld’s newest creations, from American Vogue Editor-In-Chief, Anna Wintour, to Birdsong actress, Clémence Poésy. Never one to hold back on a spectacle, Lagerfeld’s show was a production like few others. The theme was “under the sea”, with curtains covered in seahorses and iridescent seaweed draping the Palais and setting the scene. As Florence Welch sang live from a giant shell, the show began, and models walked the runway dripping in pearls, shimmering in sequins and holding silvery shell-like clutches. No detail was overlooked, with little pearls dotted in the models’ wet-look slicked-back hair. You could argue that this show demonstrates just why Chanel is such a timeless brand, continually coming up with new ideas and creations to keep us interested. Lagerfeld (despite being nearly 80 years old!) knows what women want, and has made sure not to isolate younger women, with his more youthful Coco Mademoiselle collection. It would seem that Chanel has stood the test of time, and fortunately, is here to stay.

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