The Chanel jacket is without a doubt one of fashion’s most revolutionary pieces ever created. In the 50s and 60s, the Chanel jacket was a status symbol of the British aristocracy as well as for fashion icons like Jacqueline Kennedy. In fact, Jackie O wore her pink Chanel suit during JFK’s presidency and during his assassination. The suit has since become one of the most referenced and revisited piece in her closet.
Little known by many, the Chanel jacket was first designed in 1954 by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel to free women from the constraint of the wasp-waisted silhouette of the fifties. Coco was already 71 when she came out with the Chanel jacket, which was inspired by the man’s suit.
“It enables women to move with ease, to not feel like they’re in a costume. I’m not changing the attitude of mannerism. This time it’s very different because human body is always on the move,” described Coco of the idea behind the iconic jacket.
In the 1950s, fashion was very flamboyant and exuberant with froufrou, bow collars and bateau necklines. The style was mainly influenced by Christian Dior’s 1947 “New Look” that continued to inspire fashion in the fifties. There was a hesitant culture struggling to break from the successes of the 1940s.
As for Coco, the fashion world was in dire need for change. She adopted elegance, movements, minimalism and straight cuts in her new design – introducing a whole new silhouette that would eventually change the way women would dress.
Desperate for Modernity
Coco brought a sense of hope along with her utilitarian style during a time when fashion was restricted to conventional looks. This iconic jacket challenged the traditional approach to women’s fashion and gave birth to multiple possibilities in the years to come. The straight jacket that was inspired by menswear provided absolute freedom of movement — something that was unheard of during that time but revolutionary at the same time.
The Chanel jacket takes up to 130 hours of craftsmanship and no fewer than 30 measurements. Adjusted and sculpted; built, dismantled and rebuilt, each jacket is an assembly of 18 separate pieces that are threaded meticulously by hand because only by hand (according to Coco) do you stay true to the spirit of haute couture.
There are four real pockets, braid in matching or contrasting tones depending on the orders of each customer. The trims and buttons are created specifically for each design. Every button is stamped with the symbol of the house, and Coco ordered specifically that each button must come with a buttonhole.
The trims are placed gracefully on the tweed to delineate the continuity of the garment while emphasising its shape. A delicate chain is sewn into the silk lining as the finishing touch to ensure a perfect fall. This is Chanel’s secret to weighing down the jacket effortlessly.
One Shape, Many Interpretations
Coco also brought back tweed from Scotland as the base of the jacket. Traditionally used for upper-class country clothing, the fabric became associated with leisurely pursuits of the elite. Coco, who was in a relationship with the Duke of Westminster then, fell in love with the material after borrowing her beau’s sportswear. She was drawn to the sophistication of the fabric and enlisted a Scottish factory to produce her iconic tweed fabrics since the late 1920s.
Similar to the Chanel suit that was designed in 1925, Coco structured her jacket to fit more like a cardigan and less restrictive than other fashion available to women at the time.
“The Chanel jacket is a man’s jacket which has become typically feminine. It has definitely come to symbolise a certain nonchalant feminine elegance that is timeless, and for all times,” said Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel since 1983.
Coco’s functional logic was unstoppable. She made the front page of magazines worldwide. The most influential women – Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn – described the jacket as an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe.
When Lagerfeld took over, the 80s was defined as the era of extremes. Excess was the order of the day. Lagerfeld began playing with the iconic jacket – paired with a matching skirt, mismatched with jeans, structured with different fabrics, lots of pastel colours, or in the simplest black-and-white palette.
The versatile structure lends itself to all metamorphosis and adapts to all daring creations. Lagerfeld is also known for his extravagant point of view. But 60 years after its creation, the Chanel jacket remains the cornerstone of contemporary fashion and has been endlessly reinvented by Lagerfeld in each of his collections.
“There are things in fashion that never go out of style – jeans, white shirt and a Chanel jacket,” concludes Lagerfeld.