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]

The Antique Corset Gallery

The Antique Corset Gallery

Take a deep breath, and check out this sparse, simple, and beautifully designed site showcasing 250 years of corset… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Chanel Black Suede Leather Jacket, White Cotton Skirt & Silk Scarf Set 05c Sz 40Rare Chanel 04p Black Wool Gothic Chiffon Ruched Crystal Cc Jacket Coat 42 NrAuth Chanel Black Shimmer Tweed Fringed Jacket Blazer 38Chanel 06c Blue Lambskin Leather Coco Pop Raglan Double Breasted Coat Jacket 44Auth Chanel 05a Black Camellia Velvet Ribbon On Tulle Dress Jacket Coat Suit 38Chanel 04a 94% Cashmere Metallic Trim Black Short Sleeve Sweater Shell Shirt 44Rare Chanel 06c Coco Pop 100% Silk Iconic Mademoiselle Camelia Shirt Top 44 NrSexy Chanel 08p Black Ribbed Cotton Button Back Knit Tank Shirt Top 40 Nr KillerElegance Chanel 04a Black Top Shirt Blouse W/ Attached Chiffon Flowing Scarf 42Chanel 04a 94% Cashmere Metallic Trim Black Long Sweater Cardigan Coat 44 Nr WowEssential Chanel Paris Deep Blue Cc Button Slick Diamond Quilted Puffer Vest ~sAuth Chanel 12a Green Fantasy Tweed Sequin Trim Classic Short Jacket 38Chanel 01p Cotton Lace Top W/ Kimono-type Sleeves, Matching Camisole / EucAuth Chanel 12p Black White Cotton Jersey Stretch Knit Lace Dress 38Chanel Cream & Navy Blue Cashmere Striped Pom Pom Detail Sweater 03p Size 36Auth Chanel 11a Grey Brown Cashmere Cardigan With Horn Loop Closure 38Chanel Coctail Dress Size M AuthenticChanel 100% Silk Translucent Back Button Ivory Blouse W/ Black Accents - Nwt!Chanel 97p Tweed Skirt Suit Size 36Chanel Pink Lace Camisole, Tops, Tank, Size 38Auth Chanel 14p Pink Cotton Cardigan Sweater 38Chanel 01c Size 36 Silk-lined, Cotton-blend Sleeveless Dress In Sky Blue, FloralChanel 04p Size 36 Silk-lined Silk Dress / Black W/ Others, Floral Print, Euc!Authentic~chanel Spring 2010~linen Long Piped Jacket W/front Pockets~sz 40~creamNwt Chanel 04p Size 36 Silk Lined Cotton Skirt / Multicolor W/ PeplumAuth Chanel 11c Silk Chiffon Floral Blouse ShirtChanel Beige & Multicolor Striped Knit Button Front Cardigan Size 38~authentic~chanel~short Sleeve Coco Image Cotton T-shirt~size 42~white/blue~Auth Chanel 14c White Cotton Polo Blouse Shirt With Roll-up Sleeves 36Chanel 98a Lightweight Multi-colored Wool Blend Women's Jacket Cum Blazer / 34frChanel 05p Size 36 Ribbed, Square-necked White Tank Top W/ "cc" StitchingChanel Suit Size 40 Gorgeous!Chanel 01p Size 38 Off-white/cream Square-necked Tank Top / Pure Cotton, "cc"Chanel Black Linen & Gold Button Trim High Waisted Shorts Size 36Chanel P38540 Black 100% Cotton Ribbed Embroidered Gold Chain Tank Shirt 44 NrLadies Chanel Stretch Long Sleeved Blouse Chanel 03a Silk Blouse W/ Slip / Pale Green, Floral / French Cuff / Silk / 36(frChanel Navy Blue Cotton Short Sleeve Crewneck Top 02c Size 36Fab! Chanel Vintage Perfect 3 Piece Logo Cc Camellia Silk Pants Tank Jacket M Chanel Nwt 05p Strap Top & Open Front Ls Top / Black & White W/ Lace / 34 & 36Chanel P27891 Black Fantasy Tweed Shaggy Embroidered Jacket Blazer Coat 44 NrChanel Boutique Black Silk Short Sleeve Button Front Blouse Size 34Authentic Classic Chanel JacketChanel 01p Size 36 Cotton-silk Vest / Blue W/ Orange & White / "cc" BadgeAuth Chanel Black Tweed Sleeveless Pleated Dress Sz 40 06a Bn60Chanel Summer Body Con Dress Stretchy Cc Logo Sz S M Mini Dress Authentic!!Chanel Black Leather Knee Length A-line Skirt Sz Eur 36Chanel Women's Vintage Jacket Yellow Silver Metallic, Great Buttons Eu 40 Us 6Chanel Pastel Yellow Wool Blend Metallic 00c Woven Short Jacket Size 40Chanel 01c Size 38 Silk-lined Rayon Blend Sleeveless, Collared Top In Gold / EucChanel Navy Blue White Polka Dot Jacket 38 36 Chanel Suit Blazer And Skirt Size 40 - 4/6 Medium Cc Logo Buttons Very Clean$4,690 Chanel Auth Navy Blue Print Cotton Open Back Maxi Dress. Sz Fr 34 Us 4.Chanel Periwinkle Lavender Blue Purple Vintage Jacket Estate Vintage Chanel Boutique Pink Blouse Silky Bowling Shirt Style Logo PocketChanel P45053 100% Cotton Baby Pink Fantasy Tweed Jacket Blazer Coat 46 Nr HotChanel Marine Blue Jacket, Veste, Linen Size 38 Authentic Chanel Black Jacket Size LAuthentic Chanel Blouse Top Cc Logo Button Size 36 2 Xs Small Authentic~chanel Spring 2010~sleeveless Crewneck Top W/beaded Trim Detai~size 40