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    

Auth Chanel 13s Beige Open Weave Raw Silk Dress W/ White Faux Pearl Buttons 38Auth Chanel 06a Black Ivory Cashmere Long Sleeve Cardigan Sweater Double Belt 38Chanel 44 Black 100% Cashmere DressAuth Chanel Black Quilted Lambskin Leather Distressed Suede Motorcycle Jacket 42Chanel Black Tweed Jacket - Coat Size 38Auth Chanel 14p Black Braided Tweed Wool Jacket Skirt Suit 38Chanel Size 46 Brown Spotted Rabbit Fur CoatChanel Jacket Vintage 100% Authentic Size 2 White Jackie OChanel 46 Blue 100% Cashmere DressGenuine Chanel Caramel Brown Knitted Camel Hair Gold Button Cardigan Small - B47Chanel 44 Black Wool Blend Sweater DressAuth Chanel 07p Blue Peach Salmon Cashmere Cardigan Sweater & Top Twinset 38Chanel 13 Black Wool Sleeveless Dress Size 36 / 38100% Authentic Chanel Glitter Shimmer Blazer Size 38 $4690Auth Chanel 14b White Silk Jersey Knit Blouse W/ White Faux Pearl Buttons 38Auth Chanel Black Wool Ribbed Ruffled Overlay Detail Turtleneck Sweater Fr Sz 38Auth Chanel 07p Orange Pink Cashmere Cardigan Sweater & Top Twinset 36Rare Vintage Chanel 93a Black & Gold Chain Strap Velvet Bustier 36Chanel Purse - Shoe - Jewelry Print Silk Blouse Sz 36 Sm Chanel Cc Logo Pearl Buttons Black Cashmere Jacket Sweater Xs S 36 38 $3900Chanel Beige / Cream 100% Cashmere Buttoned Cardigan / Sweater Size 42 LChanel Size 46 Sand Jacket 100% SilkChanel Iconic Tweed Jacket Mutli Colored Size 40.Chanel Boutique Navy Blue White Monogrammed Sweater Dress Sz 42Chanel Boutique Ivory Crew Neck Short Sleeve Black Trim Button Up Sweater Sz 40Chanel JacketChanel Laidies Black White Turtleneck Skirt Set Women's) Top 42 Skirt 40 Nwt Auth Chanel Off White Black Neck Tie Detail Long Sleeve Blouse Sz SAuthentic Chanel Boutique Vintage Black Long Sleeve Top Euc!Chanel Taupe, Grey & Brown Cashmere Colorblock Crewneck Sweater Dress Size 40Vintage From 1970s Winter Diamond-quilted Sheepskin Shearling Coat JacketWomens Chanel Boutique Solid Black Leather Pants Jeans Zip Ankle AuthenticAuth Chanel Ivory Wool Short Sleeve Crewneck Monogram Embroidered Top Fr Sz 36Chanel BouclChanel Tweed Purple Green Cream Wool Blend Long Sleeve Box Skirt Suit. Size 42wChanel Red Crochet Long Sleeve Tie Front Cardigan Sweater Sz 44Authentic Chanel Black Cashmere Sweater Embroidered Neckline 06a Us 2 4 Fr 36 Coco Chanel Sweatsuit 100% Cotton Women's Petite Extra SmallNwt Chanel White Lambskin Leather Zipper Skirt 38Chanel Vintage Red Boucle JacketVintage Chanel Brown Wool Tweed Classic Jacket, Suit, Size 34Auth Chanel Boutique Black Cashmere Bold Gold Buttoned Peacoat Jacket Sz 36 95aAuthentic Chanel, Spring Cream And Tan Tweed, Boucle Jacket, Size 40Auth Chanel Boutique Cream Pleated Crew Neck Tie Detail Long Sleeve Blouse Sz MChanel Midnight Blue Cashmere/silk Long Sleeve SweaterChanel Violet Wool Short Sleeve Round Neck Solid Print Knit Top Eur Sz 40New Chanel Womens Cotton Jeans Size 4-6 Made In ItalyFabulous Chanel Black & White Tweed Fringe Jacket 05p New Size 44Chanel Tweed Jacket, New W/ Tags Eu44Chanel Boutique Orange Cashmere Long Sleeve Crew Neck Full Button Sweater Sz 44Chanel Boutique Wool Pastel Pencil SkirtAuth Chanel Cream Black Silk Trim Long Sleeve Button Down Shirt Sz Eur 40Chanel Boutique White Gold Tone Buttoned Blouse Sz 42Chanel Light Yellow Wool 3/4 Sleeve Crew Neck Knit Top Eur Sz 40Chanel Boutique Pink Wool Long Sleeve Collared Tie Front Blazer Jacket Sz 36Authentic Chanel Wool Blend Jacket Size 38Chanel Black Ruffled Neck Long Sleeve Cashmere Top Sz 42 06aNwt Chanel Ivory Silk Sleeveless Mock Neck Ruffle Trim Blouse Sz 40 $695Chanel Boutique Sorbet Cashmere Long Sleeve Crew Neck Full Button Sweater Sz 44Chanel 03a Multi Color Sequin Fantasy Basic Jacket Blend Sz 44 Made In France