In the words of Coco Chanel herself, "a girl should be two things: classy & fabulous". Chanel vintage pieces, be they a classic 2.55 bag, a pair of statement earrings or a little black dress demonstrate how true this statement can be to achieve when you wear them. The legend of Coco ‘Gabrielle’ Chanel came from humble beginnings.
Born in Saumur in 1883, she spent a her teenage years in a convent where she learnt to sew. It is perhaps this frugal and austere start in life which would later influence the understated quality of her later designs. She began in fashion as a milliner but quickly moved into womenswear when her own mode of dress became widely admired in Paris as part of the fashion, with designers such as Jean Patou, to move away from fussy clothes and into wearable, fresh and simple clothes. Her designs of the 1920’s suited the modern woman and were, above all, intended to be comfortable with jersey, light silks and cotton. She said: ‘Luxury must be comfortable otherwise it is not luxury.’ In this time she took inspiration from a variety of sources including Breton fishermen and the sports style of the English gentleman which she encountered when on holiday in Scotland with her lover, the Duke of Westminster. Soon she was incorporating wide legged trousers, striped tops, argyle knits and Scottish tweed into her designs.
Chanel held the belief that fashion was designed not to last but that style was timeless. Her designs and innovations have proved this to be true. It is as though, with everything she created, Chanel intended them to become classics and they are what has maintained the brand to this day. From her early career these include the CC logo in 1925 to her draped strings of pearls, the LBD to Chanel No. 5, so named as it was the 5th scent she was presented with by perfumer to the Tsars, Ernest Beaux. However, it was the second phase of her career, following the relaunch of the Chanel brand in 1954, that the most recognisable elements of Chanel were truly born, all of which were based on Chanel’s own style and wardrobe. These were the Chanel suit, the 2.55 bag and Chanel costume jewellery. Chanel had previously designed tweed suits for her customers but it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s that the classic shape and style took hold. The simple lines of the square jackets and pencil skirts (A-Line skirts in the 60’s) exactly suited the style of the day and were worn by notable women including Jackie Kennedy at the inauguration of President John F Kennedy in 1961.
The vintage 2.55 bag is possibly the most coveted piece in any Chanel vintage collector’s wardrobe. Based on a bag owned and designed by Chanel in the 1920’s, with its double flap, innovative chain strap and quilted exterior it is also one of the most widely recognised and imitated bags in handbag history. It was an instant success when it was launched in February 1955 (hence the name). These early examples in black, navy blue or brown leather or jersey with grosgrain or leather interiors are highly sought after. However, later incarnations are equally loved with Karl Lagerfeld’s CC turnlock clasp introduced in the 1980’s. The 1980’s was also a wonderful decade for Chanel jewellery with large earrings, necklaces and bracelets suiting the style of the day and they remain timeless works of art. From the smallest Chanel vintage ring to a Chanel suit or dress, from the vintage 2.55 bag to a vintage Chanel WOC, discover your own piece of Chanel style history in the Open for Vintage Chanel Collection.
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