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    

Authentic Chanel Black Cashmere Sweater With Embroidered Trim & Lace 02a Size 40Nwt Chanel 100% Silk Crepe De Chine Gloss Streamer String Shirt Blouse Top 46 NrChanel Navy & Black Tweed Chainlink Trim Dress Size 42Chanel Uniform Sweater Cardigan Black 36Chanel Pink Mini Classic Handbag With Gold HardwareChanel Runuway Nwt Cotton Blend Back Opened Dress Top 2013 Aw Size 40 WhiteChanel Runuway Nwt Cashmere Blend Dress Top 2013 Aw Size 38 PinkFabulous Laser-cut Chanel Classic HandbagWomen's Chanel Cardigan Sweater - 100% Cashmere - Size MediumChanel Runuway Nwt Classic Cotton Blend Dress Top 2013 Aw Size 38 BlueWhite Top Blouse New Karl Lagerfeld M It42 Uk10 Cotton/silk ChanelChanel Runuway Nwt Classic Tight Knit Vest Top 2013 Aw Size 38 BlackNwt Chanel 13p $4145 Black Blue Wht Tweed Check Blue Flecked Raglan Jacket 36 NrChanel Sweater 100% Cashmere Size Small Cc Logo Light Blue Green Made In FranceAuthentic Chanel Multi Color Cashmere Jacket With Camellia Brooch 04a Size Fr38Authentic Chanel White/silver Lamb Leather Skirt Logo 38/xs/0 Logo Cc Silk Rare Spring Lavander Chanel Cc Crystal Logo V Neck Cashmere Tennis Sweater Size MChanel Blue Multicolor Sleeveless Floral Print Pleated Dress Cc15 Size 36Amazing Authentic Chanel Dress Sundress White Pink Blue Aqua Yellow Purple Sz 38Fabulous Autumnal Chanel Wool/silk Blend JacketFabulous Autumnal Chanel Wool/silk Blend JacketChanel Boutique Red 2 Pc Skirt Jacket Suit Made In FranceChanel Mint Green Cotton Sleeveless V-neck Pleated Tank Top Blouse Sz Eur 36Vintage Chanel Bomber Jacket Coco Boutique Rare Coat Gold Chain DesignerChanel Black Wool Pleated A-line Skirt Size 38 02aChanel Blue Tweed Tulip Hem Pencil Skirt Wool Stitch Silk Lined Fr 40 Us M $825Chanel Top Shirt Short Sleeve Dripping Funky Chic Size SmallChanel Calfskin Black & Tweed Jacket Size 40Chanel T ShirtChanel DressRecent Chanel Made In France Silk Blend Black White Tweed Print Jacket Blazer 46Auth Chanel 2013 Cruise Line Collection Panier Petticoat Skirt Denim Dress Chanel Spring Multi Color Silk Print Trim Black Wool Skirt Suit Crop Jacket 8Chanel Uniform T-shirt Size Large Chanel Uniform T-shirt Size Medium Chanel Silver Jacket Size 42 Pre- Fall 2003 CollectionChanel Uniform Sweater Cardigan Black 38Authentic Chanel Long Sleeve Shirt Size XlChanel Black Leather Funky JacketChanel Lot Fabric Swatches Trims For Repair Various 14 Swatches ButtonsChanel Boutique Wool Slacks Euro Women's Size 36Chanel Auth Nwt Black Gray White Knit Rhinestone Cardigan Sweater Top Sz 34 2Chanel Boutique Boucle Tweed Dress Size 44 Never Worn Original TagsGorgeous Chanel 96a Boucle Cc Logo Button Jacket 36 ~ Pristine ConditionAuthentic Chanel Black Crochet Knit Top Size 44fr Once WearWomans Chanel TopVintage Chanel Shirt Blouse Printed *beautiful PieceChanel Iconic Logo Tanktop Nwt Size 40Chanel 00t Black Cotton Boucle Jacket Fr38 / Us6 * Authentic*Authentic Chanel Black Knit Tank Top - Size MediumAuthentic Chanel Jacket, Made In France, Very Good Condition, Size 44Authentic Chanel Black Cotton Textured Skirt Pockets Size 36 Xs High WaistNwt $60 Zara Knit Size Large White Sleeveless Blouse With Chain Detail ChanelAuthentic Nwt Chanel Black Vintage Ptd Skirt W/8 Gold Quilted Cc Logo-euro 42Chanel White Cotton Promotional T-shirt W/ "cc" Logo+red Lipstick- New ConditionChanel Auth Ivory Cotton Blend Flat Front 06p Pants Slacks Trousers 40 8Vintage Karl Lagerfeld Chanel Navy Blue 100% Silk Blouse Top 40Exspensive Labeled Chanel Licenses T-shirt Embellished Logo Size LChanel-style Jacket By Walter, Black With Brocade, Size 10Chanel Navy Suit Size 42 Jacket & Skirt Multi Colored Trim