When we think of Coco Chanel designs, we inevitably focus on the classic suit with the slim, boxy jacket and straight skirt. It's as chic today as it was when it was first modeled in the 1920s. But there is considerably more to the house of Chanel.
History of Coco Chanel Designs
Chanel's first design was the boater hat - a smart, sensible hat perfect for outdoor activities. Both men and women could wear it and it remained hugely popular for most of the 20th century. Coco Chanel was a woman of strong opinions and limited resources - the fashions of the day neither suited her, nor could she afford them. Instead, she created simple, practical items for herself and other women got interested.
Her first foray into clothing was in designing fashions fit for outdoorswomen, who until then simply had to make do with their regular daywear. This hardly allowed for as much activity as a woman might wish. So, in 1913, Chanel provided basic skirts, jackets, jumpers and sailor blouses - outfits that would characterize most women through the war.
She began to incorporate jersey, a fabric that allowed for a loose, comfortable fit and was also practical and easy to care for. This was a must in wartime, and was set to change women's lives. Almost single-handedly, Chanel created the radical redesign of women's fashion that characterized the 1920s, and set a standard for simplicity in dress that is still felt today.
The Little Black Dress
Along with the sleek boxy suit, probably the most famous of Coco Chanel's designs is the little black dress, introduced in the 1920s. Until that time, there was effectively no such thing as a good dress that was also simple and plain. Many evening designs of the 1920s, especially in the pre-flapper days, were bright and fussy, expressing the joyousness of the time. But Chanel saw a need for something else and thus introduced a plain, well-designed dress that could be wool in daytime and crepe, satin or velvet at night.
There were many variations, but the basic simplicity and elegance of the dress was always its defining point. There is a reason that to this day, many women do not consider their wardrobes complete unless a little black dress is in the closet.
The Trouser Effect
Various women had tried to introduce the concept of trousers for women at times, with bloomers being briefly worn in the late 19th century, but it was Chanel who was first able to get women into trousers in 1929. The look was still considered shocking, and only wealthy women whose status in society was unquestioned, could get away with it. Even then, trousers were only worn during sporting events - only a star like Marlene Dietrich could get away with something like a trouser suit for evening in the 1930s. But another star, Katharine Hepburn, embraced trousers and showed they could be glamorous and sophisticated and the stage was set for another revolution, as if Coco Chanel designs hadn't already revolutionized fashion!
Although first introduced in 1916, the familiar Chanel suit was presented to the world in 1954. At a time when clothing had again become fussy thanks to postwar happiness and prosperity, Chanel presented an alternative to women who wanted to look elegant and sophisticated, but retain a level of comfort and simplicity as well. Built in her favorite fabric, tweed, the goal was to create a jacket that could suit any woman, with sleeve length and pockets placed for maximum flattery.
Lined in silk, each jacket is weighted with a chain that is the secret to its perfect hang. Furthermore, its multiple panels forgive both weight gain and loss, allowing for even more flexibility. And now that you can slip the jacket over jeans, it's even better. Coco Chanel would be delighted.