Few designers in history have been as written about as Coco Chanel, who founded the single largest luxury fashion house in the world and whose name is an international byword for elegance and style. Remarkably, however, in an era when the best attended exhibitions in the world’s greatest museums are devoted to fashion, and fashion designers, there has never been an exposition solely devoted to Coco’s work. That changed on Wednesday night, with the opening of "Gabrielle Chanel.
Fashion Manifesto" in the Palais Galliera, one of the great fashion temples of Paris. A truly comprehensive consideration of Chanel’s 60-year career, from her boutique in Deauville that opened before World War II to her final show in 1971, "Fashion Manifesto" encompasses over 350 of Chanel’s designs: including 164 fashion looks; along with beauty, rare accessories, and jewelry.
There are no sketches or illustrations by Coco in this show, since she couldn’t draw. There is a film of her pretending to sketch on prints prepared for her by the great illustrators of her time, like Christian Bérard, five of whose drawings are displayed. Instead, Chanel worked with her hands, as black and white footage proves; kneeling down and sternly clipping with scissors or the pinning the hem of a dress worn by a live model. The opening artifact is actually a handprint and signature of Chanel, and they are clearly very hard-working hands. The key theme of this show is how Chanel liberated women in a new century from the strictures, stays, and petticoats of the 19th century. By firstly liberating herself, by initially appropriating men’s clothes that allowed her to freely move and look more distinguished.
“Chanel became a female dandy, switching from borrowing clothes to designing them,” argues the curator of the exhibition Miren Arzalluz.