Arts & Entertainment

Gabrielle Chanel, the designer behind the myths

By María D. Valderrama

Paris, Sep 30 (efe-epa).- The history of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the creator of the French brand that bears her name, goes far beyond celebrity and a handful of iconic designs.

This much is evident in the retrospective exhibition covering the career of this towering figure of fashion put on at the Palais Galliera in Paris, which reopens Thursday after two years of reforms.

The exhibition brings together 350 pieces from the museum’s collection, Chanel’s archives as well as items from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Fashion in Santiago, Chile, and MoMu in Ambers to offer a look back on Chanel’s 60-year career.

“There are up to 100 biographies on Chanel, as well as films and documentaries that, fundamentally, speak about her private life,” Miren Arzalluz, Galliera director and exhibition commissioner, tells Efe.

“It’s not that work is little known but the understanding of it did fall into cliches,” she adds.

To counter the myths that have grown up around Chanel, who became associated with scandal and being unlucky in love, commissioners Arzalluz and Véronique Belloir, under the artistic direction Olivier Saillard, wanted to reconstruct her career and examine what lay story behind her designs, which continue to influence contemporary fashion.

“She was a woman who created for herself, wore her own creations and was very clear on what she wanted,” Arzalluz says.

Gabrielle Chanel: A Fashion Manifesto, which runs from 1 October through 3 March, gathers archetypal designs such as the silk sailor jersey from the 1910s, the sportswear-inspired pieces of the 1920 and the sophisticated dresses of the 1930s.


In the first room of the tour viewers will find a black silk muslin gown embroidered with pearls, from 1924, which evokes her search for simple elegance.

A flowered model, one of the few patterns she ran, stands out under a straight, green silk jacket, lined with the same design as the accompanying dress.

Later, the daywear began to alternate with the nightwear, simple dresses with low backs, open shoulders and discrete ruffles that became a Hollywood favorite for the likes of Marlene Dietrich.

They date from the last years of splendor before World War Two, which marked an era in which Chanel dedicated more time to perfume, makeup and jewelry.

Arzalluz says Chanel put women at the center of creations: “People often say it was Paul Poiret who liberated women from the corset, that may be.

“But the person who made sure elegance was inseparable from the freedom of movement and of feeling natural, that was Chanel.

“Everything in her was radical and in the antipodes of what is happening around her at that time.”


On the second floor of the museum, a space that has been named after the famous French designer, the exhibition delves into the latter part of her career when she returned to the catwalks in 1954 with designs to counter the rigid female silhouette proposed by Christian Dior with his New Look in 1947.

The result of this was Chanel’s famous tailleur, the now iconic two-piece tweed suit pairing a jacket so fluid it almost resembles a cardigan and a knee-length skirt.

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