The Internet is abuzz with news of the Little Black Jacket Exhibition coming to the U.S. this week. The exhibit celebrates Chanel's iconic black tweed jacket, and, in a nod to the jacket's dynamism over the years, showcases 120 ways the jacket was reinterpreted and reimagined in a series of black-and-white photographs taken by Karl Lagerfeld, longtime head of Chanel's iconic fashion house. The project is the brainchild of Lagerfeld and former Vogue France editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld. And while Lagerfeld is usually one to toot his own horn, this time, he's actually got something worth tooting about.
"The interesting thing is that one simple thing, a little jacket with four pockets, you can play so much and create 120 different types," Lagerfeld said. "It's play time with an item that is timeless."
Timeless is right. While it's undeniable that much has changed at the Chanel house since Lagerfeld took the helm (in my opinion, both for good and bad) the brand's adoration of its famed tweed jacket is one thing that hasn't. First imagined by Coco Chanel in 1954, the jacket has been a staple of women's fashion through its many iterations over the years.
But the jacket didn't just appear out of the ether: it was the result of deliberate design, and borne of frustration. Coco Chanel was nothing if not candid, and of fashion post-WWII, she had some choice words. Rightfully so.
"Fashion has become a joke," Chanel said. "The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape."
History tells us that Chanel was a woman of great spirit and determination, and it was with this spirit that she was inspired to design a jacket that was not only pleasing on the eyes, but was something women -- and even men -- could feel comfortable in.
And like many classic designs, it's got secrets. Each tweed jacket is hand-stitched with silk, which conceals one of the jacket's biggest weapons: its chain. While designing, Chanel used the chain to help the jacket retain its shape while fitting the contours of the body. To this day, Chanel is one of the few remaining fashion houses to weight its jackets, or, in this case, line them with a fine chain. Additionally, paneling in each Chanel jacket makes it possible for the jacket to expand within three size ranges of its original design. One size fits... many?
This exhibit gives guests a chance to see some of these secrets. But more than anything, by paying tribute to the Chanel jacket, Lagerfeld is paving the way for its future. As the years pass, I expect the jacket will change. Colors will come and go; it will see new designers and adornments. But in a way, I'm confident it will remain the same: dynamic yet classic, simple yet elaborate. But never outdated.
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