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Great Scott!: The tale of Chanel’s iconic tweed

Mention tweed, and Chanel immediately comes to mind. The fabric however, originated in the 18th century in Scotland, but ultimately became Coco Chanel’s fabric of choice which she used to create the luxury brand’s iconic skirt-suits.

Chanel
1930s, Scotland: Coco Chanel in sportswear. Photo: telegraph.co.uk

Boyfriend-inspired
Possibly one of the original pioneers of the “boyfriend-style”, Coco Chanel first borrowed tweed pieces from her then lover, the Duke of Westminster. As she rode horses in them, she then realised how comfortable, flexible, and durable the thick, woven fabric was. Chanel decided to pluck the fabric from the world of menswear and incorporate it into womenswear for the first time.

Ina Claire in Chanel
Actress Ina Claire in Chanel’s tweed dress. Photo: telegraph.co.uk

Tweed becomes luxury
In 1924, Coco Chanel commissioned a Scottish textile company to produce her tweed fabrics, which she used to make everything from sportswear to suits and coats. That same year, American Vogue published a picture of actress, Ina Claire, in a brown tweed dress by Chanel. Praised as “young, yet elegant”, the look triggered a tweed trend that inspired fashion houses in Paris, and all through the streets. 

Chanel
When asked “What’s the toughest part of your work?”, Mademoiselle Chanel replied, “Enabling women to move with ease – to not feel like they’re (in) a costume”.

Coco Chanel then switched factories to Maison Lesage Atelier in France (which Chanel owns today) in the 30s’, and started exploring the endless combinations of making tweed, or bouclé, as known in her Paris ateliers. This resulted in more fashionable and lightweight options of cotton, silks, and cellophane, which appealed to ladies even more.

Women loved that her tweed suits, which were cut in a rather masculine way, made them feel empowered, while the matching skirt still allowed them look like a lady. Most importantly, they were comfortable.

Famous tweed-ers
Chanel’s tweed is a great example of a trend of the past, which became a timeless classic to this very day. It was the symbol of an independent and elegant, modern woman.

Marie-Helene Arnaud in a tweed Chanel ensemble
French actress, Marie-Helene Arnaud in a tweed Chanel ensemble, photographed in 1958 by by Sante Forlano for Vogue.

Other than movie stars, other famous tweed-wearers included Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana. While Jackie Kennedy was seen in a pink double-breasted bouclé suit on 22 November, 1963, moments before her husband, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it was long questioned if it was actually an authentic Chanel number.

Jackie Kennedy in Chanel.
22 November 1963: President John F. Kennedy accompanied by Jackie Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

While many sources have claimed it to be a well-made copy, it was revealed in 2011 by Chanel biographer, Justine Picardie, who wrote Chanel, Her Life, that the the pink “fake” may not have been made at Chanel’s ateliers, but it was in authorised by the fashion house.

In her book, Picardie said, “she (Jackie Kennedy) was able to acquire Chanel outfits sewn for her in New York by a dressmaking establishment called Chez Ninon”. “The garments were not fake or pirated, but made to order using materials supplied by Chanel in Paris… Thus it was, that she came to be wearing a vivid pink Chanel suit (complete with fabric, trim and buttons from 31 Rue Cambon, but fitted at Chez Ninon) on 22nd November 1963, accompanying her husband to Dallas”, she further elaborated, on the case of the “Chanel copy”.

Princess Diana in Chanel.
9 March 1997: Princess Diana at Prince William’s confirmation.

While Kennedy’s tweed was a highly debatable issue, Princess Diana’s baby blue bouclé suit was definitely Chanel – bought off-the-rack. Complete with a matching pillbox hat, she even wore it a second time in April 1997 to the British Lung Foundation when they named roses after her.

Karl’s tweeds
Since Karl Lagerfeld first helmed Chanel in 1983, he has reimagined the iconic fabric in more ways than one could imagine.

Chanel Spring Summer 2017
Chanel Spring Summer 2017

Sure, he has spruced up the colours, and modernised the silhouette of apparel over the years, but he has also used tweed in unexpected ways. Think iPad cases, caps, sneakers, sunglasses, and even padlocks.

Karl's tweeds
Karl’s take on tweeds – iPad cases, sneakers, sunglasses, padlocks, and caps.

A forward-thinker and one to push boundaries, we’re pretty sure Mademoiselle Chanel would approve of King Karl’s twists of tweeds.