How Gabrielle Chanel Reinvented Fashion and Liberated Women

How Gabrielle Chanel Reinvented Fashion and Liberated Women
On October 1st, Palais Galliera, the fashion institute of the city of Paris, reopened after a two-year refurbishment with a retrospective dedicated to Gabrielle Chanel, in one of the few highlights of an otherwise subdued Paris Fashion Week. While it was hard for me to put aside the unsavory details of Coco’s life (notably, how she cozied up to the Nazi occupiers), as I explored the show the beauty of the displayed garments allowed me to put my reservations on her persona aside, and look at her visionary talent instead. The curators of the exhibition (Miren Arzalluz, director of Palais Galliera, and Véronique Belloir, with the help of fashion historian Olivier Saillard, who also curated the Alaïa and Balenciaga exhibition currently on at Association Alaïa) have managed to put together a stunning show that follows the evolution of le style Chanel under the direction of Mademoiselle. Bias cut. Photo © Sarah Bartesaghi Truong Covering the period from her beginnings as a milliner, opening a small shop on Rue Cambon in 1910, to her death in 1971, the show is a tribute to how Coco Chanel, a fiercely independent woman, invented a kind of fashion that liberated women, as she advocated for women to live their lives to the fullest. Heavily borrowing inspiration from men’s closets, Chanel designed garments that allowed women to move freely, practice sports, drive cars, party hard and still look impeccable. Her formative years in a convent shaped her color choices, and the show is a symphony of whites, beiges and blacks. Chanel’s black was not the color of mourning, but that of evening gowns and parties. In a country where the Great War had erased a whole generation of men, leaving a ratio of one man to four women in the early 1920s, Chanel chose her side: it would be the crazy nights out, dancing until the wee hours, a glass of champagne in one hand and a cigarette in the other. As the Roaring Twenties came crashing down in 1929, fashion adapted to the new economic and political climate. Even Chanel succumbed to the diktat of figure hugging gowns, imposed by the newly fashionable biais cut. Most of all she gave in to what many women felt was a step backwards for their freedom: a whirlwind of outfit changes from day to night, that left little of the insouciance of the flappers.

Lead photo credit : Coco Chanel exhibit in 2020. The vaulted galleries at Palais Galliera. Photo © Sarah Bartesaghi Truong

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Sarah Bartesaghi Truong has lived, studied and worked in Milan, Paris and London. Her lifelong passion for art in all its forms and her entrepreneurial dreams were the catalyst for a career change: she left the world of investment banking to go back to school, at the Sotheby’s Institute of London. Ten years ago, she moved back to Paris, the ideal location for an art-lover. As an Italian in Paris, she decided she would keep playing the tourist in her adoptive home town, always on the lookout for the many wonders the French capital has to offer to the curious explorer. VeniVidiParis, the company she founded, plans curated itineraries in the French capital and its vicinity for travellers wishing to discover the city’s vibrant art scene, but not only. Take a look at her recent discoveries on her Instagram feed, @venividiparis, or contact her at [email protected] for help planning your next Parisian vacation.


  • martha babcock
    2020-10-18 01:45:49
    martha babcock
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    2020-10-15 07:31:09
    Peter Bouwhuysen
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