V&A Museum to stage UK's first exhibition about Coco Chanel

The showcase, titled Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, will chart the designer's revolutionary vision through 200 of her creations

The exhibition Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto will open in London next month. Photo: Chanel
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London's Victoria & Albert Museum will host the UK's first exhibition dedicated to the life and influence of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel.

Titled Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, it will run from September 16 to February 25 and chart the designer's remarkable six-decade career, from her first millinery boutique in 1910, to her final Paris collection in 1971.

Told through 200 of her designs, many of which are being brought together for the first time, the exhibition will track the evolution of how her personal style established the house of Chanel. There will also be accessories, jewellery and perfumes on display.

First shown at Paris's Palais Galliera, the exhibition has been reimagined for London. It will include pieces from the V&A's own archive that will appear alongside items from the original collection, as well as pieces from the private historical archive of Patrimoine de Chanel.

Innately stylish, Chanel designed primarily for herself and the demands of her own active lifestyle, and she created clothes that were almost revolutionary for the freedom they offered.

Devoted to the notion of allowing women to break free from the tyranny of corsetry she witnessed growing up, Chanel made clothes that were as comfortable as they were chic. She cut her skirts so they would not ride up, and weighted the hem of her jackets to ensure they hung correctly.

Most importantly, she created jackets and dresses around the fit of the armhole, and was notorious for pulling clothes apart repeatedly to ensure the perfect fit. Far from being an act of petulance, the designer was driven to create a new language of pro-women clothing.

Included in the show is one of the oldest-known surviving Chanel looks, dated 1916, and the original costumes she created for the Ballets Russes production in 1924. There will also be bespoke looks created for Hollywood actresses Marlene Dietrich and Lauren Bacall.

“As one of the most successful fashion houses in existence, Chanel owes much to the templates first laid down by its founder, Gabrielle Chanel, over a century ago," said Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A.

"We are delighted to be partnering with Chanel and the Palais Galliera on this exhibition, which provides us with the opportunity to explore the origins and elements of this enduring style and to display little-known historic Chanel garments from the V&A collection.”

The retrospective is divided into 10 sections, one of which is called The Emergence of a Style, and examines how Chanel created a signature style in the 1920s and 1930s, while The Invisible Accessory looks at the impact of her debut perfume No 5, which became the world’s best-selling fragrance.

Luxury and Line examines how she paid special attention to proportions and materials to introduce refinement into every piece, while Return to Fashion explains how Chanel came out of retirement in 1954, at the age of 71, to counter the restrictive fashion being championed by Christian Dior among others.

Speaking of the new show, Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel SAS and of Chanel Fashion, explained: “We are happy and honoured that the first exhibition dedicated to Gabrielle Chanel to be held in the UK will be presented at the V&A, one of the most prestigious museums in the world.

"Gabrielle Chanel was a legend in her own lifetime. This exhibition will analyse her contribution to fashion and her radical vision of a style that created modernity and reflected the aspirations of women and the evolution of their place in society."

Updated: September 01, 2023, 6:26 AM