Ah, Chanel… the divine mademoiselle. Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Bonheur Chanel died in 1971, but her influence lives on. It survives in the clothes and styles we take for granted today, in the way we mix jewels faux and real, team a boy’s shirt with a sassy skirt or wear a sailor’s jacket. She was, in her own way, a revolutionary-nothing was the same after her arrival on the scene. She designed a new wardrobe for the liberated, working woman who was beginning to emerge. She gave us shorter skirts so we could run around, pyjama-like pieces that were comfortable to wear, and showed us that true chic had little to do with price and everything to do with an innate sense of style.
Today, her box-cut bouclé jackets, silky blouses, Breton T-shirts, loose jersey pieces, camellia brooches, two-tone shoes and quilted handbags are recognised and lusted after the world over. And, of course, we should never forget the perfumes that, in the lean times after the Second World War, kept the house alive. Chanel No 5, created for Mlle Chanel in 1921 by Ernest Beaux, with its overdose of aldehydes, was utterly innovative in its day and made all other perfumes seem instantly out of date. It was made famous by Marilyn Monroe, and Chanel’s perfume division remains one of the most profitable in the world.
The house has been lucky in having, since 1983, the genius of Karl Lagerfeld to guard the DNA that Chanel bequeathed with such brilliance. Every season, he takes the well-known codes and reinvents them so that, now, a bag, a cardigan-style jacket or a dress are all instantly recognisable as coming from the House of Chanel. Although Chanel’s own quilted bag, the one she herself designed in 1955, is an all-time best-seller, so too is the twist on it that Mr Lager-feld came up with in 1983 when he so memorable entwined the famous CCs.
This year, 80 years after Chanel came out with her first collection of diamond jewellery, featuring the comets and the stars, the moons and the constellations that were its hallmark, the House of Chanel has brought out a range of some 80 jewels that quite ravishingly explore her delight in these celestial symbols.
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