The Genius of Chanel Takes Center Stage at the V&A's Fashion Manifesto Exhibition
London’s iconic Victoria & Albert Museum is currently hosting an unprecedented exhibition celebrating the peerless legacy of fashion visionary Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.
Titled “Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto,” it marks the first major retrospective ever dedicated to the French couturier in the UK. The show traces the evolution of Chanel’s style from her first Paris boutique in 1910 to her final collection in 1971 through nearly 200 stunning garments, accessories, perfumes, and jewels.
Many pieces are being exhibited together for the first time, offering an unparalleled chance to appreciate Chanel’s revolutionary impact on 20th century fashion. She pioneered an elegance rooted in simplicity, movement and versatility that still feels modern today.
The V&A reimagined the original “Fashion Manifesto” show at Paris’ Palais Galliera Museum, adding over 100 objects to provide fresh British perspective. Rare archival Chanel outfits from the V&A’s own collection are showcased alongside items from Patrimoine and Palais Galliera.
Highlights include a 1916 Chanel outfit predating her first shop, 1920s Ballets Russes costumes, and celebrity garments made for Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich. Together, they demonstrate Chanel’s enduring influence as both a trailblazing designer and brilliant self-marketer.
Divided into thematic sections, the exhibition offers glimpses into Chanel’s design philosophy and many innovations. As visitors traverse through the eras, they witness her evolution from millinery to emerging signature style to the iconic suits and little black dresses that still define Chanel today.
The accessories, perfumes, and jewelry sections provide insight into how she expanded her brand’s influence. By boldly using cheaper materials like Jersey and tweed, Chanel made luxury accessible to modern women.
While others clung to restrictive ornamentation, she empowered women through practicality and clean lined elegance. Her keen understanding of women’s changing roles permeates the minimalist dresses, pantsuits, costume jewelry and N°5 fragrance she designed primarily for herself.
According to V&A Director Tristram Hunt, “Gabrielle Chanel’s style templates, conceived over a century ago, are at the heart of Chanel’s global success.” The exhibition allows visitors to trace these origins through her revolutionary designs.
Chanel’s intimate knowledge of what women wanted to wear never wavered as she anticipated and dictated styles. She built an empire by fearlessly ripping up fashion’s rulebook and putting dynamic movement, ease and grace first.
Through this unparalleled collection, the V&A pays tribute to her trailblazing tenure at the top and lasting impact. She didn’t just influence fashion – she rewrote its blueprint and changed the way generations of women dress forever.
More than any past exhibition, “Fashion Manifesto” reveals the breadth of Chanel’s contributions and cements her legacy as a true fashion visionary. Each section unveils a deeper dimension of her pioneering spirit that still resonates today.
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto
V&A Museum – London, England
September 16, 2023 – February 25, 2024
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