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    

Luxurious Authentic Chanel Black Sheer Silk Blouse Size 50 (eu) Xl See-throughChanel Light Gray Dress Xs*** Chanel *** White & Black Pearl Jacket. Size 38Chanel Made In Italy Blue Quilted Cc Button Slicker Puffer Vest Body Warmer 40Authentic Chanel Black Silk & Cashmere Cardigan SweaterAuth Chanel "coco Button" Sleeveless Pink Gray Jacket 38Chanel Paris Wonderful Soft Cotton/lycra Cc Logo Top MChanel Ladies Sweater - Size 38 - MediumChanel Black/navy Quilted Wool Zip Up Sweater Jacket Sz 34 Us Size 4Chanel Made In France 08c Cottton Blue White Block Stripe French Cuff Shirt 38Chanel Made France Modern Black Cotton Blend Tweed Nebula Space Button Jacket 36$2090 New Chanel Purple Green Amber Crystals Stripes Sweater Pullover 36 38 Chanel White Knit Top With Cc Logo On The Arm Size SmallAuth Chanel "coco Button" Denim/purple Tweed Luxury Suits 34Chanel Made In France Black Wool Mix Boucle Satin Piped Modern Jacket 40 RecentChanel Black White Cashmere Button Down Cardigan Sweater Twinset Sz 36Auth Chanel "coco Button" Silk Short Sleeve Blouse 36Prada Dress Bra Top Blouse Shirt Skirt Shoes Bag (paris Hilton's Estate)Chanel Black & Red Iridescent Silk Pencil Skirt 08a Size 38Chanel New Pant Elegant Black Textured Folded Bottom Trouser Authentic SaleChanel Summer Evening Top; Size M; Great Condition! Chanel Black Cotton Short Sleeve Sweater 03c Size 42$1500 Original Chanel Black Fall 2015 Runway Tweed Skirt Large Eu 42 Us 12 Uk 14Chanel Multi Colored Wool Long Sleeve V Neck Jacket Size 36Vintage Chanel Black Boucle Evening Jacket With Gold Cc's Classic!!Chanel Zip Up Sport JacketAuthentic Chanel Black Boucle Cropped Structured Blazer Jacket_size 44_03cChanel $895 Green Velvet Black Cc Patent Leather Cap Toe Ballet Flats 39.5 Us8.5Chanel Stretch Cotton Faded Distressed Blk Grey Whiskered Skinny Jeans Pants 40Chanel Black Stretch Mini Skirt Size 44 Bn570Vintage Chanel 98a Brown Cashmere Two Piece Sweater Set Sz 42Authentic Chanel Women's White Silk Cc Logo 02c A-line Skirt Size 42 6wh3lcVintage Coco Chanel Long Sleeve Black Dress Gold Buttons Size 36, Small, Laine Chanel Red Long Sleeve V Neck Button Down Blouse Size 8New!! Chanel Spring 15 Runway White Dress Size 36 $4600Chanel Multicolored Tweed Long Sleeve Blazer Jacket European Size 34 05pChanel Women's Dress New! W/tags Swimwear CoverChanel (fr.38) Black Mohair/cashmere W/ Scattered Pearls & Cc-charm Sweater TopChanel Boutique Wool Blend Lime Green/white Jacket - Size 38Chanel Swimmng Suit - Size 42 NewRare Nwt Chanel Fall Winter 2013 Tweed Little Black Dress Size 38 Retail Us$6950Chanel Netted Sleeve ShirtChanel SweaterChanel Black Multi-slit Silk Maxi Skirt Size 4 Fr 36New Chanel Camilla Cc Light Knit Top Short Sleeve Sweater Peach $680 Bnwt Sm/medChanel Deep Gray Green A Line Lambskin Leather Skirt-sz 38 Or Us 8-nwot-wow!Chanel Knit TopChanel Black Sleeveless Top Blouse Size 38Authentic Chanel Logo Ivory Linen A Line Summer Skirt Small Excellent ConditionChanel White Navy Blue Wool Silk Striped A Line Skirt Eur Sz 36 01p