The V&A will host the first-ever exhibition in a major British museum of the work of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, covering the career of the French designer from the opening of her first millinery boutique in Paris in 1910 to the presentation of her latest collection. in 1971.
The London Museum exhibition, Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, will present 180 creations as well as jewelry, accessories and perfumes, and outfits created for Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich.
And like much of Chanel’s work, the show is likely to be a blockbuster. It is organized into eight themes, and based on a show first presented in Paris in 2020 and more recently in Melbourne. In addition to the pieces that are part of the traveling exhibit, there will be outfits from the V&A collection that are rarely on display.
Chanel is widely regarded as a pioneer of modern fashion, a woman who designed for herself – a radical concept in early 20th century France, where women did not have the right to vote until 1944. She sought to emancipate women’s clothing by making it simple, comfortable and chic, and doing away with the corsets and frippery of the time.
Pieces now considered classics – such as the “little black dress” and the marinière – date back to his work. Its perfumes, including Chanel No 5, first launched in 1921, remain among the best-selling perfumes in the world. She also had a wild knack for a good word: “fashion changes, but style lives on” is a regular on Instagram feeds more than 50 years after her death.
Miren Arzalluz, director of the Palais Galliera, the Paris fashion museum, said: “Gabrielle Chanel has devoted her long life to creating, perfecting and promoting a new type of elegance…a timeless style for a new type of woman. It was her fashion manifesto, a legacy that never went out of style.
Chanel undeniably changed the course of fashion, but she is considered a controversial figure. During World War II, Nazi officer Hans Günther von Dincklage was her lover. In 2011, investigative journalist Hal Vaughan’s book Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War showed that she was anti-Semitic and worked as a Nazi intelligence officer, recruiting agents across Europe. The exhibition, due to open in September 2023, focuses on his work rather than life.
Chanel the brand remains a huge fashion powerhouse – thanks in part to Karl Lagerfeld, who revitalized the house after Chanel’s death. During his tenure as creative director from 1984 until his death in 2021, he made Coco Chanel an icon, reinventing many of her creations, such as the 2.55 quilted bag, and putting her image in campaigns and pictures. With collections currently designed by Virginie Viard, Chanel was valued at $13.2bn (£10.5bn) in 2021.