I’m a big fan of Chanel. I’m not so much for her collarless suits, the pearls or the ritzy double “C” logo, but I’m captivated by the person. She was a woman from nowhere with nothing who looked at the world around her and found it utterly ridiculous, so she changed the way women dress.
How? During the last gasps of the Edwardian era she reacted against the fluffy, fussy and restrictive ideals expressed in feminine clothing.
Instead, she strove for comfort and wearability, borrowing fabrics and cuts from menswear. Her lover, Boy Capel, played polo and she famously “stole” his wool jersey polo shirts and later used jersey in her designs.
The striped shirt came from the picturesque (and practical) striped jerseys worn by French fishermen.
The “garcons” shirt (white with a black bow tie, tres chic) was inspired by the uniforms worn by French schoolboys.
She stripped off the corset and streamlined the shapes of dresses.
…and introduced the Little Black Dress. I find myself constantly inspired both by the audacity of Chanel’s early work and by her “maxims.” She was well known for repeating phrases and proverbs of her own composition to herself. The first time I picked up a Chanel biography, one of her oft-repeated maxims switched on a light inside my head:
Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.
Somehow in the intervening years, my mind has fashioned that maxim into:
The clothes I sew must be comfortable, otherwise what’s the point?
Chanel built her reputation and her empire on teaching women to wear clothes that don’t get in the way of being female. Her influence on fashion (and feminism, in her way) can not be over-stated.
So if she considers comfort an indispensable element of luxury, I have to agree with her. I used to think of “luxury” clothing as expensive, fancy pieces of frippery meant to be worn carefully. Perhaps with poky bits, or scratchy places. The lesson I draw from Chanel’s early work is that your clothes should never get in the way of what you do while wearing those clothes.
Perhaps that’s why I include “mobility” as an important element of good fit and strive for wearability in my sewing.
As I fossicked around the internet for a few more images to show the inspiration for this month’s hack (more on that tomorrow), I ran across the Chanel website. Did you know they post videos of their catwalk shows? I’m usually not interested in what the big houses do because the designs often get in the way of living life. Sometimes the shows are quite inspiring or interesting, but not usually terribly practical.
But what’s this from the Summer 2012 Haute Couture show? Pockets? Are those pockets? And a nifty rolled standaway collar, and cut-on sleeves, and yoke seaming interest? Do I catch a faint whiff of practicality blended with killer style? Chanel, is that you?
The collection was inspired by 50’s-60’s Pan-Am uniforms, but the designs are perfectly wearable (and sew-able!). I like most of the garments shown, and I keep watching the shows and imaging what fabrics I’d use to conjure up the frocks.
There’s far, far too many lovely and completely wearable garments in this collection for me to show them all, do check out the show on the Chanel website.
Which easy-wear Chanel look do you like best? Man-tailored? Garscons? Breton Stripes? Corset-free evening wear? Or the 2012 Eminently Practical Collection (as I am now calling it..)?