This weekend, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), pioneer of global art, design and performance, celebrates the unveiling of Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto. This exhibition is the UK’s first dedicated solely to Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, the iconic French couturière, who redefined the art of fashion. Spanning styles from her first Parisian boutique in 1910 to her last collection in 1971, the exposition vividly traces Chanel’s evolution and unparalleled contribution to fashion.
The exhibit brings together nearly 200 outfits, which were never seen all together in one space, complemented by a curated selection of accessories, perfumes, and jewellery. Visitors will be offered an intimate view of Chanel’s groundbreaking approach, which ushered in a new age of elegance that still resonates in today’s fashion ethos.
In collaboration with Palais Galliera, Paris’s Fashion Museum, and curated by Miren Arzalluz and Véronique Belloir, London’s V&A Museum breathes new life into the exhibition, adding over 100 objects, 60 of which are new looks. Exclusive pieces from the V&A, Palais Galliera, and CHANEL’s Patrimoine collection are showcased, offering a unique perspective into the fashion maestro’s realm. Standouts include a rare 1916 Chanel outfit, original Ballets Russes costumes from 1924, and outfits tailored for screen legends Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich.
At its core, Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel designed for herself, always a step ahead in anticipating the fashion cravings of the modern woman. The exhibit demarcates into ten themes, diving deep into Chanel’s innovative fabric techniques, silhouette reinventions, and how she redrafted fashion’s blueprint in the 20th century. One section even shines light on Chanel’s British inspirations, highlighting her passion for tweed and partnerships with UK textile moguls.
Established in 1852, the V&A was founded with the mission to democratize access to art and inspire British designers. Director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, articulated, “Gabrielle Chanel’s style templates, conceived over a century ago, are at the heart of CHANEL’s global success. This collaboration gives us a rare chance to trace these origins and to display some lesser-known Chanel masterpieces from our archives.”
Curator Miren Arzalluz, of Palais Galliera, remarked on Chanel’s unswerving vision, noting her dedication to “creating an elegance rooted in movement freedom and a timeless style for a contemporary woman.” Bruno Pavlovsky, President of CHANEL Fashion, echoed this, celebrating Chanel as a visionary who reflected societal shifts and women’s evolving roles.
The journey starts with Towards A New Elegance, chronicling Chanel’s hat-making beginnings, highlighting her move away from ornate designs to minimalist precision. As visitors traverse through The Emergence of a Style, they’ll witness Chanel’s 1920s signature, underscored by its simplicity and elegance. The Invisible Accessory delves into the creation of the legendary perfume, N°5, and its integral place within the CHANEL brand.
Continuing through the sections, Luxury and Line exhibits Chanel’s masterful evening wear, while Closing the House and The Suit chronicle her wartime hiatus and her revolutionary post-war contributions, most notably the iconic Chanel suit. Accessories, Chanel’s harmonious silhouette companions, take center stage in Chanel Codes, showcasing iconic handbags and shoes. Into the Evening and Costume Jewellery demonstrate Chanel’s ability to redefine boundaries, while A Timeless Allure, the finale, celebrates Chanel’s timeless evening dresses.
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto is more than an exhibition; it’s a deep dive into the genius of a woman who redefined fashion. Through each curated piece, visitors will experience the art of Chanel’s unparalleled vision, her audacious innovations, and her undying legacy. As the mirrored staircase of the finale beckons, one can’t help but be reminded of Chanel’s indomitable spirit that continues to inspire generations.
The exhibition runs from 16 September 2023 – 25 February 2024.