It's become a trend of 2009 for media outlets to celebrate the brilliant innovations of a designer who created fashion essentials we take for granted. Her name was Chanel (pronounced sha-NEL).
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883-1971) may very well have been the most influential and innovative fashion designer to date. As Christian Dior put it: "With a black pullover and ten rows of pearls she revolutionized fashion." Not only is Chanel known for her little black dress and her No 5 fragrance, but also her classic and timeless suits, shoes, purses, and jewelry. Her designs helped define women's fashion.
The Chanel skirt suit is the epitomization of classic and professional dressing, and many stores and labels have taken cue and produced a similar shape at all different price points. Whether it is a 1930s suit, 1960s suit, or a "millennium" suit, the classic Chanel tweed suit is boxy but never frumpy, always luxurious, and made to transcend fashion.
The typical suit has braided trim and a slim skirt, is lined in silk, and the hems are looped with a gold link chain to assist drape. The buttons often resemble coins or are gold with the double "cc" logo displayed amid them. There is always a ribbon sewed in the waist of the skirt to prevent the blouse from slipping and the zipper is placed on the side of the skirt to enable comfort. In a sense, wearing a Chanel suit is like wearing a customized ornate costume, made to fit so that when the wearer moves, the suit still maintains perfect grace and elegance.
To accessorize this classic suit, an excessive array of pearls, genuine and costume, simple and gold intertwined is often worn. A classic quilted Chanel handbag with the CC logo and gold chainlink shoulder strap would hang over the shoulder, and Chanel's trademark two-tone pumps or ballet flats would be worn on the feet.
Today the average cost of a new Chanel suit is $5,000 and can only to be purchased at Chanel boutiques or at high-end department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue. Although details such as exquisite fabrics, bias cuts and hand sewing contribute to the high cost, Chanel was a firm believer that if the costs of her products were high, then her obsessively perfect designs would truly be valued.
The ballet shoe-inspired flattie (that could be pulled tighter with a thread, just like a dancer’s) was another part of Coco’s crusade to liberate women – in this case, empowering us to stride, rather than teeter, along the pavements first of Paris, then the world. Today, imitation seems to be the sincerest form of flat-shoe-ery, as ballerina pumps are everywhere. But those in the know can spot the real thing at a distance: it features a mixture of patent and matt leather, with – somewhere – the handstitched CC logo. And the pumps are as easy to wear as slippers because, in the words of Coco, ‘Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.’
Here are a few items from 2009 fashion catalogues, items that reflect Chanel's classic style.