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

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [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    

Nwt Chanel 13p Black Cotton Pearl Studded Grosgrain Banded Jacket Coat 38 Nr HotChanel Made In France Black Gold Metallic Tweed Flap Back Cotton Blend Jacket 46Chanel Paris Made In France Lilac Purple Houndstooth Belted Kimono Jacket 44 NrChanel Boutique Authentic Jacket Size 34Nwt Chanel 13p $4145 Black Blue Wht Tweed Check Blue Flecked Raglan Jacket 38 NrChanel Nwt Runway Pop Sleeve Classic Sweater 2013 Size 40 BlueChanel Black Tweed Bouclé Chain Detail Pencil SkirtChanel Skirt It 40Chanel Black Uniform Cardigan Sz 38 Made In France Rrp$830.00 100% AuthLot 2 Auth Chanel Boutique Vintage Black Blouse Sweater Set Sz F 44 Bn R146Auth Chanel Black Red Trim Wool Button Down V Neck Jacket Sz Eur 40Authentic Chanel Tank Top $1220Christian Dior Black Lace/nude Dress (the Real Housewives Of Bh)$2725 John Galliano Soft Pink Backless Dress (the Real Housewives Of Bh)Chanel Jacket Size 44Chanel 07p ~ Size 38 ~ Pink Ribbed Cotton Knit Gold Cc Buttons Tank Blouse TopChanel 5pc Black Velvet Gold Cc Jacket Hanger SetAuthentic Chanel Tweed Magenta Jacket Size 40Chanel JacketChanel Top, Tshirt. AuthenticChanel Boutique Vintage Size 38 Paris Scene Print Dress, Gold Buttons, RuchingAuth. Chanel 09 Black White Tweed Jacket W Pearl Leather Chain Buttons Size 40Vintage Chanel Blouse - Boutique, Silk, Pink, Oversized, 80sChanel Twin Set Size 40 Or SmallChanel Women's Blue Cream Knit 3/4 Sleeve Open Sweater Sz 40 Italy Chanel Linen Puff Sleeve Top SChanel Blue Flowers Dress Medium MAuth Chanel Wool Burgundy Black Tweed Sequin Detail High Collar Jacket Sz Eur 40Christian Dior Burgundy Red Dress Top Blouse (the Real Housewives Of Bh)Chanel Scarf Authentic Made In Italy 21x21Authentic Vintage Chanel High Waisted Knit Skirt Ivory Navy Trim Size MAuth Chanel Multi Color Tweed Fringed Edges Fully Lined Jacket Sz Eur 40Chanel Black Sequined Top AuthenticChanel Ladies 100% Cashmere Navy Sweater W/ Sequins Patch On 3/4 Length SleevesCoco Chanel No5 TshirtChanel Authentic Euc Size 44 Black Linen Pants W Chanel ButtonAuthentic Chanel Black Lace Evening Jacket Size SChanel Tweed Suit- Jacket And Skirt Spring Colors Size 38 Pastel Blue, LavendarChanel BlazerAuth Chanel Collection 07p Very Rare Elegant Jacket Vest Size 38Auth Chanel Multicolored Abstract Print Textured Fabric Button Down Shirt Sz 34Auth Chanel Ivory Cashmere Woven Trim Tulle Brooch Sweater Top Eur Sz 40White Chanel Fitted Shirt Size LargeVintage Chanel Silk Blouse 422 Chanel Black Velvet Hanger With Signature Gold Cc Logo Chanel Beige Multicolor Metallic Knit Belted Cardigan Sz SChanel Runuway Nwt Classic Cotton Blend Dress Top 2013 Aw Size 36Chanel Authentic Grey Stretch Pant / Trousers W Chanel ButtonChanel 01a Brown Ivory Boucle Sequin Long Blazer Jacket 38/4Authentic Gorgeous Preowned Women's Chanel Ruffled Leather Vest Size 42 W/ccVintage Chanel Black Womens Highwaisted Pants Size 8Chanel Authentic Euc Size 46 Black Straight Leg Pants W Chanel ButtonAuth Chanel Black Wool Wide Leg Dress Pants Sz 42 Eur 03a Bn164Christian Dior Black Lambskin Dress Skirt (the Real Housewives Of Bh)Authentic Vintage "chanel Paris" T-shirt 80's Pre Loved & ShabbyChanel Red Floral Print Cotton Button Down Dress 40 03pAuthentic Chanel Cashmere Sweater Black Gold Small 4 38 V NeckChanel Fr38 00c Thin Denim Blue Straight Clingy Tapered Pencil SkirtChristian Dior Pink Wool Sweater Set, Metallic Gold Trim Detail, Sz 4Chanel Cream Long Sleeve Knit Top 36