chanel exhibition
Photograph by Virgile Guinard for Chanel

Charlotte Cardin Takes Us Inside The New Gabrielle Chanel, Fashion Manifesto Exhibition

Women’s liberation through fashion innovation.

On September 30, I was invited to the opening of the remarkable Gabrielle Chanel, Fashion Manifesto exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris. The exhibit, laid out mainly in chronological order, had me traveling through decades of female empowerment characterized by Chanel’s creative revolutions.

See some of the highlights from the exhibition below:

Ode to the material, not the ornament

Seeing hundreds of vintage pieces that all represented how Gabrielle Chanel broke the existing fashion codes and reinvented women’s fashion prioritizing practicality, elegance and comfort was my highlight of the exhibit. At a time when it was all about flamboyant colors, uncomfortable corsets and obnoxious embellishments, Chanel had better ambitions for female fashion. Throughout her life (and evident throughout the entire exhibition) Coco Chanel prioritized quality materials and elegant simplicity, rather than adding unnecessary ornaments. Her pieces were made with soft materials, allowing the modern woman to be comfortable and sophisticated in her busy everyday life. I was fascinated by the many tweed pieces (resistant, comfortable and borrowed directly from men’s fashion by Chanel), fringe dresses (travel-friendly and practical, as they never wrinkle in your suitcase), and versatile and tasteful creations (like her silk bolero top that can be turned into a scarf, once again prioritizing movement and practicality). Chanel would apparently ask her clients to cross their arms when she measured them for custom pieces, as she wanted the measurements to allow her clients to move freely in her creations.

Pockets and independence

charlotte cardin chanel
©Laurent Vu/SIPA

One of the first patrimoine pieces of the exhibit is an ivory printed surah dress from the early 1930s. Elegant and yet casual, its main perk is the presence of two medium-sized pockets on the hips. Something we modern women may take for granted was revolutionary at the time; a small detail like a pocket was an affirmation that women could, and would, carry their own money, without needing their husband’s approval, to spend it where they wanted to.

Lucky N°5

Maybe it’s because five is also my lucky number, maybe it’s because it reminds me of my grandmothers’ hugs or maybe it’s because it was created almost a century ago and still has one of the most modern signature scents – but I certainly have a weak spot for Chanel’s most famous perfume. Created in 1921, the iconic N°5 has an entire room dedicated to its story in the exhibition. In the middle of that room, the very first model of the fragrance’s bottle sits in a glass box. The flask’s art deco design, minimal and elegant, has barely changed since its creation. Mixing flowery, woody and spicy notes, Chanel once again created new feminine codes; this time in a unique scent allowing women to add an androgynous touch to their look and defining femininity with a brand new vocabulary.

To find out more about the Chanel exhibition, click here

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