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 Quality Cashmere Black Jacket/coat Size Xl/uk 12-14-16 Chanel Yellow Ribbed Cashmere Cc Button Cardigan 96a Size 36Chanel Blush Boucle Wool Blend Jacket 99p Size 38Chanel Jumper From Resort 2016 $4800 Chanel Tweed Blazer Jacket Boucle 38 36 2 4 Small Iconic Recent No ReserveChanel 04a Multi-color Metallic Plaid Jacket Blazer Cc Buttons 42 EucAuth Chanel Bouble Breasted Cc Buttons Pink Tweedy Jacket Coat Size 40 Us 8Chanel Haute Couture Dark Blue Double Breasted Coat Size Small Ll19llChanel Skirt Black Silver Grey Authentic A Line Stretch 46 Houndstooth StripeChanel Leather Cropped Trench Coat With HoodChanel Fuzzy Spaghetti Strap Top Tweed Ivory Off White Tank Size 42Chanel Summer TopAuthentic~chanel~spring~fit & Flare Floral Jacquard Jersey Dress~navy~size 42Nwt Chanel 16p $5650 Size 46 Black Navy Blue Fantasy Tweed Jacket Blazer NewChanel Authentic Ivory Off White Skirt 42 And Top Size 40 Set Wool BlendChanel Floral Spaghetti Strap Cami Tank Top Beige Off White Size 40 CashmereChanel 05p Fringe Tweed Navy Black Gray White Jacket Blazer Cc Buttons 44 EucChanel Cottong White Sleeveless Half Button Up Women's Top Size 40Chanel White Sleeveless DressAuthentic Chanel Ivory Silk Pintuck Front Button Tunic Top Blouse Size 36 Us 4Chanel Ac714 Jacket 34 Orchid Blue Double Breasted Cotton Blazer Jacket Size 34Auth Chanel 08c Black Metallic Plaid Jacket 44 EucNwt Chanel 13k $6250 Size 46 Black & Blue Wool & Silk Tweed Jacket Blazer NewChanel Solid Black Silk Sleeveless V Neck Semi Sheer Top Tank Size 38Chanel Black Cashmere Knit Wide Leg Pants With Ribbon Tuxedo Stripe Size 44Chanel Cashmere Size 38 Light Pink Sleeveless Sweater Vest 90's Vintage Chanel Boutique Orange Blazer Jacket 98a - Fr 44, Us 12Chanel Xl White Black Cc Logo Shirt Short Sleeve Vintage Zipper Front 90sVintage Classic Chanel Black And White Shirt New Condition Size LChanel Jacket BlazerChanel Cc Logo Rare Iconic Flirty Spring Floral Button Up Crop Top Tank TopChanel 2 Piece Sweater & Skirt Outfit Suit Black White Knit Womens Small Cc LogoChanel Women's Sweater Wool Long-sleeve Tan/beige Extra Small Xs Flaws/read!Vntg Chanel Boutique Jacket 12 Cc Logo Buttons Size 38Chanel BodysuitD4982 Auth Chanel White Lamb Skin 36 Button Down Blazer Jacket Leather WesternChanel Red Wool Long Sleeve Ruffled Trim Turtleneck Sweater Size 6R2733 Auth Chanel Multicolor Wool Tweed Size 40 Jacket & Dress 2 Piece Set-upChanel Woman's 2 Piece Skirt Suit Navy/white 38/42 08pChanel Fabulous Soft Wool Blended Fringe Black/white Skirt 38 Authentic~chanel~black Knit Skirt W/logo Charm~size 40Chanel Runway Little Black Dress Cruise Logo Embroidered Lesage Fantasy 34 SexyChanel Boutique Gray Wool Double Breasted Notched Collar Blazer Size 6Couture Chanel Lime Green Boucle Tweed Jacket And Skirt Suit Size 40 42Chanel Black Vintage Velvet Stain Trim Button Up V Neck Blazer Size SmallChanel Boutique Cream Wool Pants Clover Buttons, Pleats, Cuffs, Lined Sz 38 Chanel Chocolate Brown Suede Wide Leg PantAuthentic Chanel Winter Jacket & Snow GogglesChanel Woman's JeansRare Chanel Leather SkirtVintage Black Linen Chanel SuitVintage Chanel Purple Tweed Gold Tone "cc" Button Wool/metal Jacket Chanel Gorgeous Black 100% Thick Cashmere Paris $3.7k Jeweled Black CashmerChanel Auth Women's Beige Multi Metallic Confetti Tweed Blazer Jacket Sz 40 8Chanel Wool Cashmere Navy Slacks Side Zip 46 12 14 Straight Leg Lined SilkChanel Black Wool Sleeveless Cropped Top Blouse Size 42Woman's Chanel White Black TankVintage Chanel Silk Embellished Top / BlackChanel-like Black House White Market Tweed Combo Sheath DressChanel S Small Womens Shirt Black Quilted Cuff Logo Uniform 3/4 Slv Boat Neck S2