August 18, 2013

Tribute to Coco Chanel (130th Birthday) - The 5 Most Iconic Chanel Pieces

August 19th marks what would have been the 130th birthday of the iconic French designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Coco rose to prominence in Paris in the 1920’s thanks to her pioneering designs that liberated women from the structured, form fitting clothes of the past. She is often credited with having made the corset a thing of the past thanks to her loose fitting frocks. During the course of her career she created a number of iconic pieces which are still reinterpreted every year by Karl Lagerfeld, the head designer for the House of Chanel. Since 5 was always her lucky number, let’s take a look at 5 of her most iconic designs that have remained in popularity since their first introduction.

 The Little Black Dress

In 1926 Vogue ran this illustration of Chanel’s first little black dress. They deemed it a must have for any lady of style thanks to its multi-purpose abilities. Before Chanel created this iconic piece, black was largely regarded as a color to only be worn at funerals and when in mourning. She decided that such an elegant and flattering color shouldn’t be limited to only sad times, and thus created her first LBD. Since then the little black dress has become a staple in practically every woman’s wardrobe and has been interpreted in countless ways.

The Chanel Suit

The classic Chanel suit was first introduced in 1923, and garnered little attention. Despite the fact that Chanel had created an entirely new fabric to construct the suit (the fabric is now known as wool jersey), the press failed to find it groundbreaking. Inspired by cardigans and men’s suits, the Chanel suit consisted of a pleated skirt with a matching, boxy jacket. Chains were sewn into the hems of the skirt and jacket to ensure it draped on the body well. Today the skirt suit is a vital part of any working woman’s wardrobe, and the classic Chanel suit is still considered the epitome of sophistication.

Costume Jewelry

Chanel knew of every woman’s desire to own and wear beautiful jewelry, but also understood that not everyone had the financial means to buy more than a few simple pieces. So, she partnered with Verdura jewelry and raided her own jewelry collection to produce cheaper reproductions. At the time, she said, "It's disgusting to walk around with millions around the neck because one happens to be rich. I only like fake jewelry … because it's provocative.” So she piled on her imitation pearls, rubies, and diamonds and made the faux, very much en vogue.

Chanel Bag 2.55 – A Timeless Classic

Coco Chanel was a very active person in her day to day life, often moving about a room to engage in all sorts of matters. She quickly grew tired of having to constantly carry her handbag around and thus, lose the use of that hand. So, in February 1955 she decided to create a sophisticated handbag option for women, who much like herself, wanted to be freed from having to constantly have their bag in their hand. Almost every element of the 2.55 is inspired by her childhood; the burgundy lining is the same color of the uniform she wore while living at a convent as a child, the chain straps are similar to those worn by the nuns at the convent, and the quilted stitching recalls the abbey at the convent. The handbag has been reinterpreted over and over again both by the House of Chanel and by others since its introduction over 50 years ago.

Spectator Pumps

Coco was always influenced by menswear and often reinterpreted men’s clothing for her line. However, she wasn’t only looking at their jackets and pants, she was looking at their shoes as well. The spectator shoe was first used as cricket shoes in the mid to late 19th century. Chanel, being a sports enthusiast, saw potential in the oxford-style shoe and revised it to become a low-heeled cream colored pump with black cap toes. The spectator pump has since been re-envisioned by the House of Chanel as everything from ballerina flats to thigh high boots and in every type of material from vinyl to snakeskin.

So today, in honor of Mademoiselle Chanel, throw on some pearls, a tweed jacket, or a quilted purse and give thanks for her liberating women from the corset!

Author: Spencer Blohm (freelance lifestyle and entertainment blogger for Being a closet history nerd enjoys researching all types of people who are interesting to him, including Mademoiselle Chanel, in his free time. He lives and works in Chicago with his cat Rupert. )

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