For roughly a century, the name Chanel has been synonymous with taste and style, a brand whose signature looks have survived the fickle nature of the fashion world to become classics in their own time. For most of its history, the sole reason for the Parisian fashion house’s success was Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

Chanel's reputation for leading rather than following was established early. In 1916, just a few years after she opened her first shop in Paris, Chanel took the bold step of using wool jersey, then an undergarment fabric, in daywear.

Shocking the delicate sensibilities of the fashion press was not on her mind, although it appears she accomplished that. Instead, she was after a fabric that women could move in without constraint. For Chanel, a child of the Edwardian Era, casual jersey represented a rejection of all the formal fussiness that had come before.

By the 1920s, Chanel was the darling of Paris, and the decade’s sense of style is routinely lumped together with her name. Her perfume, Chanel No. 5 (five was reportedly her lucky number) arrived in 1921, throughout the decade she designed black evening dresses that were studded with beads, in 1927 she opened a branch in London, and by the end of the decade her simple jersey sweater with wraparound skirt had elevated sportswear to the heights of fashion.

In the 1930s Hollywood called and Chanel answered, designing costumes for Gloria Swanson and other United Artists actresses. Through her couture house, she also designed countless one-of-a-kind dresses for upscale clients. But by 1939, Chanel had shuttered her shops, fleeing Paris and World War II.

In her absence, in 1947, Christian Dior created his famous New Look. This was too much for Chanel, who had once dismissed Dior’s approach to design as the equivalent of dressing women up like armchairs. By 1954 she was ready to get back in the game, even at age 71. Not surprisingly, one of the first garments she re-invented was her trademark suit, which she now gave a shorter skirt and a matching cardigan jacket with braid for trim.

A version of this same basic suit would bring Chanel attention she no doubt never wanted. It was November of 1963, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had decided to wear a pink Chanel suit with a matching pillbox hat for a trip with her husband to Dallas. For many people around the world, the indelible image of Mrs. Kennedy standing numb from the shock of her husband’s assassination, still wearing her blood-soaked Chanel suit, remains strong. Today that suit is in the National Archives, but so sacredly regarded is the garment that it will not be available for public viewing until the year 2103...

More recently, Chanel has been guided by maverick designer Karl Lagerfeld, who, in 1983, began yet another re-invention of the storied fashion house. Lagerfeld put the Chanel double-C logo on everything from accessories to motorcycle boots, but it was his endless fascination with the possibilities of the Chanel suit that kept Chanel fans happy.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Chanel Black Woven Cotton Blend 3/4 Sleeve Jacket/blazer W/pearls/fringe 34Chanel Suit Jacket And DressChanel T-shirt- Authentic And Genuine Coco 'cuba' Shirt!Chanel Jacket 40 Boucle Tweed Multi Pockets Free Camélia Brooch PinChanel Boucle Tweed Double Breasted Coat Jacket 15s Chanel Black And White Tweed Cropped Jacket Size 44Chanel Cuba 2017 Iconic T Sz MChanel Black Boucle Jacket With Tweed Trim And Bold Cc Buttons 1994 Autumn Sz 38Chanel Coco Cuba Libre Tee Shirt Sz MChanel Silk BlouseChanel Boutique Pale Blue Boucle Wool Coat. Vintage Chanel Boutique Black Ruffle Dress Sz 8 Missing Buttons Spaghetti StrapChanel Paris-shanghai CardiganChanel Tweed Dress Sz Fr 38 Or MChanel Boucle Jacket Size 4 6 $2350Chanel-like Nhmani Swimsuit Set Made In ItalyChanel Woman's Cream Light Pink Crochet Short Sleeve Sweater DressWomens Chanel 05p Cream Silk Satin Pleated Bow Shirt Top Size 40New Chanel Painted Navy Blue Hooded Sweatshirt - Christmas 2013 With Dustbag SVintage Chanel Womens Two Button Champagne Viscose Blazer Jacket Sz 38Rare Chanel 97p Two Piece Pinstriped Trouser/pant SuitEuc Chanel Muster Cotton Ribbed Knit Vintage Gold Cc Buttons Short Sleeve Top SChanel Haute Couture Vtg 60s 70s Cream Wool & Silk Boucle Skirt Jacket Suit Xs/sChanel Suit 40Chanel Blue Denim Strappy Top - Sz 36 - Fabulous!Vintage Chanel Bomber Jacket Rare! Miley Cyrus RihannaVintage Women's Blue Chanel Dress And Blazer Set Size 8Stunning Patterned Silk Skirt From ChanelVintage Chanel Boutique Navy Blue Denim 100% Linen A Line Dress Sz Euro 40 Us 10Chanel Swimsuit Cover Up Dress Sz 38 / MChanel Black Heavy Knitwear Cardigan 38 40 Uk 10/12 Bargain SaleChanel White Tweed Adorable Pants Size 36Chanel Boutique Ivory Black Trim Suit Skirt Jacket Blazer Euro 36 / 38 Chanel Vintage Jacket Chanel Knit Top With Pocket And Chanel Logo Size Fr 42, Uk12 - 14 Genuine Chanel Vintage Pleated Cream Blouse Top Size 36Beautiful Silk Patterned Blouse From ChanelAuthentic Chanel Cashmere/silk Blend V-neck Sweater VestChanel Boutique Black/white Long Sleeve Stretch BlouseAuthentic Chanel Boutique 98p Black Wool Gown Dress Crystal Beaded Straps Sz 42Chanel Boutique Vintage 1980s Navy Blue Skirt With 3 Gold Chanel Cc Buttons Chanel Black & White Knit Sheer Monogram ShortsChanel Boutique Black Doubl-face Silk Asymmetrical Hem W/side Slit Skirt (euc) 6Autentic Ladies Jeans Chanel Made In Italy Size SChanel Black Cashmere Silk Tiered Shoulders Sweater Size Eur 46 06a Ll19llWomen's Chanel Cosmetic Counter Uniform Long Sleeve Black Dress No SizeChanel Boutique Vintage Navy Wool Pleated Straight Leg Trousers 96a Size 42Vintage Chanel Boutique Cossack Style Silk Blouse - Small Chanel Pink Cashmere & Silk Blend V-neck Sweater 03p Size 42Chanel Taupe Wool Tweed Pencil Skirt 99a Size 38Chanel Identification Brown Cashmere Pencil Skirt 99a Size 38Chanel Blush Leather & Black Mesh Trim Pencil Skirt 03p Size 36Chanel TopNew Chanel Cc Logo Shoe Socks Gray With BlackNew Chanel Cc Logo Shoe Socks White With GoldNew Chanel Cc Logo Shoe Socks Black And WhiteLot Of 3, Chanel Large Velvet Hangers Blouse/blazer/jacket *authentic*20mm.set 12 Pcs Vintage Gold Color Chanel Cc Logo Circle Buttons #s220mm.set 11 Pcs Vintage White & Gold Color Chanel Cc Logo Circle Buttons #s1Stunning Asos Cream Black Trim Chanel Style Ladies Short Jacket Blazer Sz 10