The seven Chanel style rules to follow today

Finally. Coco Chanel will finally receive a proper exhibition dedicated to her work when the V&A organizes this country’s first major Coco retrospective in September next year. Book early and expect extraordinary insight into the craft and vision of one of the two greatest designers of the last century.

And about time too. The last Chanel exhibition I remember seeing in London was at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea in 2015 and consisted mostly of empty rooms with holograms. Surely some kind of enigmatic joke. Karl Lagerfeld, his successor at home, who died in 2019, viewed museum hagiographies with suspicion, suspecting they sounded a musty, old-fashioned mark, two of the adjectives he feared most.

It may have been a valid point once, but over the past decade two V&A blockbusters – for Dior and Alexander McQueen – have only added luster, fame and creative credibility to these houses, each becoming highlights of the cultural scene.

Coco is perhaps the most fascinating to date. Predating Christian Dior and Lee McQueen (she was deliberately vague, but consensus places her birth year as 1883), she spans from Victorians to hippies. His personal story alone is fascinating. Like all the best protagonists, she was divisive – a self-made woman who did whatever it took to survive the times, including having an affair with a Nazi officer. She was lucky enough to escape the tar and plumage of her fellow Parisians at the end of the war.

Coco Chanel always defines a kind of modern understated elegance, inspired by athletic sports and following the lines of the body. Its design principles are as relevant today as they were in the 1930s – perhaps even more so, as they are more widely available thanks to a Main Street that did not exist then.

Take, for example…

1. …the short jacket in bouclé (or bouclé) tweed that she reintroduced at age 71 in her comeback collection in 1954 (she had closed her house in 1939 on the eve of the war). Often with gold buttons and braided trim, it’s the essence of Coco – an uber-sleek yet comfortable cardigan that works day or night and requires no further embellishment to look “dressy”. Never out of style, it’s particularly fashionable right now, with both high-street chains and high-end designers churning out versions – evidenced by the dark Céline ‘Hunter’ bouclé jacket the Duchess of Sussex wore to the recent Invictus Games with her jeans – that’s how millions of us do it (they also look great on long, minimalist dresses).

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