Faux Tan, Feathers & Red: Fashion Manifesto Shows Gabrielle Chanel’s Unexpected Side | Chanel


SIn the corner of a white cube in the National Gallery of Victoria are three small empty glass bottles. Each has a black and white printed label that reads For summer: for summer. They once contained the first fake tanning products, which came in powder, liquid and oil form. The bottles date from the summer of 1932 and were made by Gabrielle Chanel, back from vacation on the French Riviera, tanned and fashionable to be tanned.

The bottles are on display as part of the highly anticipated exhibit, Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, which traveled to Melbourne after her debut in 2020 at the Palais Galliera in Paris. There it was much celebrated as the first exhibition held in Paris with an emphasis on Chanel’s work as a designer, rather than on her much mythologized life, or the fashion house that bears her name.

A woman inspects a collection of perfume and cosmetic bottles at Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto. Photograph: Sean Fennessy / National Gallery of Victoria

While Chanel’s love for outdoor sports such as swimming and tennis has been well documented, alongside her designs influenced by the simplicity of athletic silhouettes and materials, the faux tan is surprisingly non-Chanel. Even if a version was recreated in 2018 by makeup artist Chanel Lucia Pica, the presence of the three bottles seems to defy the codes of the house that we all know: tweed suits, quilted handbags, two-tone ballerinas and camellias.

But Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is strewn with surprises like this. For a designer as famous as Chanel, this is no small feat. This is a testament to the depth of research and skillful curation of Miren Arzalluz, director of the Palais Galliera and co-curator of the exhibition.

Twinsets and tweed: the most famous Chanel creations
Twinsets and tweed: the most famous Chanel creations. Photograph: Tom Ross / National Gallery of Victoria

Together with the NGV team, Arzalluz has assembled a showcase of Chanel’s work of over 100 garments, including pieces from her early collections in the 1910s. The exhibition contains a range of sets from silk satin familiar and breathtaking in cream and black evening dresses and a room full of famous Chanel costumes.

Arzalluz says that the curating of the exhibition was “a journey of discovery”. She describes Chanel as radical, inescapable and essential to the history of fashion but says even as fashion historians, “we have fallen into this oversimplification of her work, the little black dresses etc. As they researched and delved into the archives of Chanel’s history, they found some unexpected pieces, like daywear and extremely light dresses in bright floral and pastel prints from the 1930s.

Daywear with floral prints and bright pastels from the 1930s at Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto.
Daywear with floral prints and bright pastels from the 1930s at Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto. Photograph: Sean Fennessy / National Gallery of Victoria

Some of them are on display at the NGV, including three floral dresses in printed and appliquéd silk chiffon. One has a batwing sleeve and a simple round neck. It is tightened at the waist with a tie and falls to the knees with slightly overlapping ruffles. At first it is a soft black with pink roses and red gold printed on it, but a closer examination reveals a unique technique that gives the flowers three dimensions. They have been cut and inlaid in places to accentuate the petals and leaves.

Katie Somerville, senior fashion curator at NGV, says these pieces surprised her because they flaunt Chanel’s technical ability and reveal a love of romanticism and femininity that is often overlooked.

The three dresses differ in their floral palettes – pale pink, soft green, and white – made in Chanel’s own textile factory, which produced graphic printed silks with abstract, naturalistic flowers. Another dress from this era is a long strapless dress in silk veil and printed with a large pattern of feathers encrusted in swirls of pink, green, mustard and blue. The soft ruffle at the bottom is made using the same appliqué technique, offset by a row of ostrich feathers, dyed in hot pink, along the bust.

A strapless 1930s dress
A strapless 1930s dress. Photograph: Sean Fennessy / National Gallery of Victoria

While this seems surprising to a designer who once claimed that “elegance is a denial”, Arzalluz says this use of adornment and feathers is repeated throughout her career. From pieces from the 20s and 30s to evening wear from the 50s and 60s, “we see exactly the same sequins in the same colors”.

Jersey and tweed are also repeated, alongside the silhouettes and functionality of the suits and sets – taken from the 1910s to the famous 1950s costume. Arzalluz says: “It’s all been there from the very beginning and it’s extraordinary. .

Gabrielle Chanel's favorite dark red pieces.
Gabrielle Chanel’s favorite dark red pieces. Photograph: Sean Fennessy / National Gallery of Victoria

The curation process also revealed Chanel’s love for deep red. Somerville says: “Red was his favorite color, it appears in every collection and goes out of style a lot. Chanel apparently even sent her red designs to number five on the runway because it was her favorite number.

Evening cape in silk velvet, georgette crepe and marabou feathers.
Evening cape in silk velvet, georgette crepe and marabou feathers. Photograph: Tom Ross / National Gallery of Victoria

Among the red pieces, an evening cape in silk velvet, georgette crepe and marabou feathers. Harriette Richards, co-founder of Critical Fashion Studies at the University of Melbourne, describes the cape as “incredibly unexpected, not at all what you think of when you think of Chanel.”

Arzalluz says the exhibition was called a manifesto “because we saw how she was guided by the same principles, throughout her life. What we see in the first piece we see in almost everything she does afterwards.

Given the variety, technicality, and depth on display, it’s hard not to wonder what Gabrielle Chanel would think of her house in 2021 – the enormous emphasis on a narrow selection of her designs: the main 2.55, Chanel n ° 5, ballerinas.

Richards says that the association, the codes of the house, are thanks to Karl Lagerfeld. He popularized them and made them very recognizable during his tenure as Creative Director of Chanel from 1984 to 2019. She says, “The accessories, the fragrances, that’s what keeps the business afloat.

“This stuff is much easier to replicate than a red marabou feather boa evening cape.”


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