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 Navy & Black Tweed Chainlink Trim Dress Size 42Nwt Chanel 100% Silk Crepe De Chine Gloss Streamer String Shirt Blouse Top 46 NrWomen's Chanel Cardigan Sweater - 100% Cashmere - Size MediumWhite Top Blouse New Karl Lagerfeld M It42 Uk10 Cotton/silk ChanelAuthentic Chanel Multi Color Cashmere Jacket With Camellia Brooch 04a Size Fr38Chanel Sweater 100% Cashmere Size Small Cc Logo Light Blue Green Made In FranceRecent Chanel Made In France Cotton Blend Summer Pink Tweed Jacket Blazer 46 NrRecent Chanel Made In France Silk Blend Black White Tweed Print Jacket Blazer 46Nwt Chanel 13p $4145 Black Blue Wht Tweed Check Blue Flecked Raglan Jacket 36 NrChanel 2 Piece Grey And White Womens Swim Bathing Suit Tankini And ShortsAuth. 1994 Vintage Chanel Two Piece Suit / Blazer And Skirt / Cc Logos Buttons Amazing Authentic Chanel Dress Sundress White Pink Blue Aqua Yellow Purple Sz 38$5,650 2013 Chanel Black Pearl Stud Boucle Tweed Jacket * Sml ~ Exceptional!Chanel Blue Multicolor Sleeveless Floral Print Pleated Dress Cc15 Size 36Fabulous Autumnal Chanel Wool/silk Blend JacketChanel DressChanel Black Wool Pleated A-line Skirt Size 38 02aSpring Lavander Chanel Cc Crystal Logo V Neck Cashmere Tennis Sweater Size MFabulous Autumnal Chanel Wool/silk Blend JacketChanel Fr.36 98a Beige Lambskin Leather Fur Shearling Winter Coat Jacket DamagedChanel Dress Or Cover-upChanel Boutique Red 2 Pc Skirt Jacket Suit Made In FranceCoco Chanel Blouse Authentic Classic Silk Suit Logo Neck Bow Tie A+ Size 8 To 10Chanel Mint Green Cotton Sleeveless V-neck Pleated Tank Top Blouse Sz Eur 36Chanel Light Mint Green Texture Quarter Sleeve Long Plastic Trim Jacket Sz It 36Chanel Calfskin Black & Tweed Jacket Size 403330 Chanel Cc Double Breasted Silk Light Mint Skirt Suit Bow Dress Size38 JunkVintage 80s Chanel Cashmere Suit Mint Condition Jacket Skirt Authentic Designer1879 Chanel Boutique Zip Up Long Sleeve White Jacket Dress Dress Setup SportChanel Blue Tweed Tulip Hem Pencil Skirt Wool Stitch Silk Lined Fr 40 Us M $825No.1 Really Cares T-shirt S Black Fashion V-neck Tee Funny Hipster Chanel No OneAuthentic ~*~ Chanel Paris ~*~ White T-shirt With Bling Ccs ~ Size: XlChanel T ShirtChanel Twin SetVintage 1990s Chanel Light Wool Skirt Size 36Chanel Black White Wool Herringbone Trim Long Sleeve Open Front Coat Sz 36 04aChanel Lambskin Jacket 34 Chanel Blue & Brown Striped Cotton Button Up TopWomans Chanel TopChanel Boutique Wool Slacks Euro Women's Size 36Chanel Creme Silk Sleeveless Woven Neckline Two Pocket Blouse Sz Eur 38Black Crop Top Tee With Chanel SignChanel Black Leather Funky JacketVintage Chanel Shirt Blouse Printed *beautiful PieceChanel Auth Nwt Black Gray White Knit Rhinestone Cardigan Sweater Top Sz 34 2Auth Chanel "coco Button"mint Green Standard Wool Suits 36Chanel Navy Suit Size 42 Jacket & Skirt Multi Colored TrimChanel Sleeveless Knit Camisole Top Striped Print 100% Rayon Size 42 Nwt $455!Exspensive Labeled Chanel Licenses T-shirt Embellished Logo Size LChanel Brown Wool Notched Collar Gold Tone Long Sleeve Blazer It Sz 46Auth Chanel Pink White Striped Cotton Sleeveless Ruffled Front Blouse Sz Eur 40Chanel Pre-fall 2014 Paris Dallas -red White Blue Flag Top Shiirt ~s, M NewAuthentic Chanel Jacket, Made In France, Very Good Condition, Size 44Chanel White Denim Jacket Size 38/40$2800. Auth. Chanel Light-wool Silver/shimmer Jacket Cc Logo Size 36-38 Us 4-6Chanel Women's Sleeveless Wool Little Black DressChanel Boutique Vtg Charcoal Black Pleated Wool High Rise Pants Sz 36 4 FranceChanel-style Jacket By Walter, Black With Brocade, Size 10Vintage Chanel Boutique Black On Black Logo Sweatshirt -- Evc / Xs / S / MChanel White Cotton Promotional T-shirt W/ "cc" Logo+red Lipstick- New Condition