In the past few years, we have seen some of the most fascinating fashion exhibitions, whose impressive success has proven that, finally, people are getting it: fashion can be true art.
Now, after V&A’s blockbusters “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” and “Dior: Designer of Dreams,” the fashion lovers of the world are anticipating the retrospective Chanel exhibition “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto,” which will be presented at the renowned London institution in September 2023. The show was previously staged in Paris and Melbourne, but this British version is different – hence the anticipation. It features 122 new outfits, out of a total of 200, several selected out of V&A’s own collection. Furthermore, the exhibition goes deeper into exploring Gabrielle Chanel’s connection with Britain.
Split over ten parts, the show spans Chanel’s career of more than six decades, starting from the time when the first Chanel store was created on rue Cambon in Paris, in 1910, and up to her final collection in 1971. An avant-garde silk jersey blouse with a sailor collar, created in 1916, is the oldest exhibit; a pink lamé dress, part of 1971’s swan song collection, is the newest one.
The visitor will also see the pink tweed deux-pièces ordered and worn by actress Lauren Bacall in Biarritz in 1959, an original Chanel No. 5 bottle from the perfume’s launch in 1921, and the designer’s costumes for the 1924 film “Le Train Bleu.”
The rooms of the exhibition are curated to bring out various elements of the legendary designer’s legacy, such as the clean, fluidly simple style of her looks, or the variations on the theme of the signature tweed suit. In fact, the latter is highlighted by exploring Gabrielle’s love of the British countryside; besides, it was due to a lengthy affair with the Duke of Westminster that she had discovered the Scottish tweed fabrics and decided to apply them to her Parisian elegance – only to create the ever-classic boxy skirt suits, the outfit described in 1964 by Vogue as “the world’s prettiest uniform.”
Of course, there are also sections dedicated to the Chanel No. 5 perfume, to Chanel’s costume jewellery, to the two-tone slingbacks, as well as to the quilted 2.55 handbag; in short, to fashion’s probably most recognizable and appreciated items.
It is not Gabrielle’s life that the exhibition focuses on, but her fashion career, yet the museum dedicates a section to the impact of the World War II on her personal and professional life, daring to refer to her relationship with a Gestapo agent, while also exploring the post-war return of the Maison, in 1954.
The “Fashion Manifesto” is sure to fascinate the audience with its insight into one of the fashion’s phenomena. Miren Arzalluz, one of the curators of this exhibition, manages to capture Chanel’s spirit in a few words: “Gabrielle Chanel devoted her long life to creating, perfecting and promoting a new kind of elegance based on freedom of movement, a natural and casual pose, a subtle elegance that shuns all extravagances, a timeless style for a new kind of woman. That was her fashion manifesto, and it’s never gone out of style.”
The exhibition “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto”, supported by Chanel, runs from 16 September 2023 – 25 February 2024. Few tickets are available now. More are being released in June.
This year, May 1 was also the date of a glorious fashion celebration. It was the date of the Met Gala, which many call “the Oscars of fashion.” This year, the annual event, held to benefit the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, paid tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, the designer that marked the history of fashion and the creative evolution of the houses of Balmain, Patou, Chloé, Fendi, and Chanel – the Maison he almost became synonymous with, thanks to his 35-year stint as its creative director.
As usual, the Gala is accompanied by an exhibition at the Met Costume Institute and, for 2023, the show, titled “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” will present 150 of his original looks, along with their original, handmade sketches. Sketching everything was one of the fundamental elements of the late designer’s creative personality – as was his determination to show his fascinating collections in unforgettable shows that took place in amazing settings. The shows were usually held at Paris’ Grand Palais, which Lagerfeld treated as a stage, completely transforming it, to offer his guests a one-of-a-kind immersive experience into his fashion vision. From staging a complete grocery store to building the first Chanel-branded space rocket, here are some of the most memorable shows signed by the Kaiser.
1. Chanel Fall/Winter 2006
For 2006’s Fall/Winter collection, Lagerfeld created a Hall of Mirrors, playing with fashion’s own essence and adding glimmering flashes to the clothes.
2. Spring/Summer 2012
Oversized shells, white sea-beds and seaweed composed the world of the Spring Summer 2012 collection. Florence and the Machine performed live on a seashell, with Florence Welch reminding of a renaissance Venus being born.
3. Fall 2013 Couture
A post-apocalyptic stage, with viewers sitting in theatre seats and models walking between the aisles of a deconstructed theatre, was the backdrop of a polished collection.
4. Spring/Summer 2015
Lagerfeld created Chanel’s own street that year – the Boulevard Chanel – and made us wonder whether he was a real feminist, by staging a protest at the end of the show. Models marched with megaphones, holding signs that read "History is Her Story," "Feminism Not Masochism," "We Can Match the Machos" and "Ladies First."
5. Fall/Winter 2014
Yes, this was an actual supermarket, fully stocked with household cleaning items and food. The models paraded with shopping carts between the aisles, and, at the end, the guests entered the set to browse (and take) Chanel’s assortment of goods.
6. Spring/Summer 2016
For 2016, the Grand Palais was transformed into an airline terminal. Naturally, the travelers held chic Chanel luggage, getting ready to take off with Chanel Airlines.
7. Fall 2015 Couture
Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Lily-Rose Depp and her mother, Vanessa Paradis, were gambling at the roulette while models walked around them. Chanel’s Casino Royale was the idea of 2015.
8. Chanel Fall/Winter 2017
Why stay to airplanes, when you can build your own rochet-spaceship – and a very chic one, too. The space-themed collection was presented with a launch of a Chanel rocket, inside the Grand Palais, with the sound of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” accompanying the show.
9. Cruise 2018
“The antique and the modern. Antique is modern,” was written in the press notes for that show, which traveled back to ancient Greece. Ruins inspired by the Parthenon, olive trees and amphoras under a twilight sky, were the backdrop for a collection that included, naturally, ethereal pleated and draped dresses, among others. Yet, Karl Lagerfeld noted: “It had nothing to do with a country. Reality is of no interest to me. I use what I like. My Greece is an idea.”
10. Fall/Winter 2019
The last show of Karl Lagerfeld actually took place two weeks after his death. Together with his successor, Virginie Viard, they had built an alpine village in Switzerland, complete with mountains, trees, cabins with smoking chimneys and snow.