It’s Complicated: Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto @ Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Eye-poping coloured dresses from Chanel’s last collection in the late 1960’s. The evening gowns are in red, red and white stripes (like an animal print) and a rainbow tiered dress. Lots of soft chiffon and shiny soft silks. Not a little black dress in sight!

More than little black dresses, this was Chanel in colour, with sparkles, sequins and feathers! As well as focusing on her everyday ‘lounge’ wear, we also got to see her evening dresses and cocktail suits, suits in an array of rainbow colours, her use of florals and patterns, and practical, collapsible hats. A gold cape dress!

Sleekly displayed, there was a whole room dedicated to Chanel perfumers and cosmetics, displayed in cabinets mimicking the Chanel perfume bottle.

It was a revelation to see how much Chanel used pattern, colours and delicate textiles — fringes and flounces of lace, florals (in pattern and cut outs), sequins. It was all about the look and styling. Whilst encouraging movement and simplicity of style. Chanel red and blue were equally astounding — not just neutrals and black! (and often used in velvets too). Intriguingly Chanel used some British manufacturers, patenting some abstract fabrics in the UK for a venture which was never fully realised. Chanel also used Tweed — who knew?!

There was also the sleek but deadly knitted bathing suit, which could cause a ballet dance to fall rather than glide. The ballerina had to be caught during the dance and was in danger of slithering away rather than being held securely.

Models of a man and a woman in knitted 1920’s bathing costumes. The man’s is blue and resembles a long round neck vest with shorts. The woman’s is a longer hip-length pink vest with wide coloured stripes banding the hem. She has matching shorts. These were used in a ballet, Bleu, to dance in!

I’m glad that her World War Two activities were explored — even if the evidence was inconclusive. There are contradictory, scrappy reports of what she did or didn’t do — maybe she did — and played both sides, maybe her famous name was used and misused. It was intriguing to learn that Chanel was hob-nobbing with the highest of high society (Churchills etc) pre-War, so perhaps she carried on doing the same during the War. On the other hand, maybe not. Or perhaps she did, determined to protect her business at all costs — no matter what.

@ Images are from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition, Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto. They are not the author’s own and used purely to illustrate an enjoyable exhibition. February 2024.

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Cultures: Arts Reviews and Views by Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....Theatre, Movies, Dance & Art!