Coco at V&A

Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto (installation view) at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo by Peter Kelleher. Source: Vogue UK

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London is currently hosting an iconic exhibition that delves into the legacy of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. Organized into 10 themed sections, Fashion Manifesto examines nearly 200 distinct looks, along with a selection of accessories and jewelry.

The exhibition at the V&A draws its inspiration from the Palais Galliera in Paris, which, with Chanel’s support, became France’s first fashion museum in 2019. However, the London presentation is a reimagined version, featuring over 100 new items, including 60 fresh looks, tailored to captivate its London audience.

Among these new items, Chanel’s signature tweed suits, characterized by their matching jackets and skirts, stand out as remarkable creations made possible by her collaboration with a Huddersfield textile factory.

Another highlight is the original costumes she designed for the Ballets Russes’ production of Le Train Bleu in 1924. Drawn to Sergei Diaghilev’s avant-garde ballet vision, Chanel defied convention by crafting sporty ballet attire. The exhibition further features her earliest known piece of clothing, a marinière blouse dating back to 1916, various ensembles from her triumphant 1954 collection after a 15-year hiatus, and outfits crafted for luminaries like Marlene Dietrich, with whom she formed a close friendship in the 1930s.

Chanel has meticulously recreated the renowned spiral staircase once gracing her Paris atelier. This staircase linked her residence upstairs to the showroom downstairs, serving as the backdrop for her seasonal fashion spectacles.

With a keen eye, Chanel would observe proceedings from her vantage point on the fifth step from the top, granting her an unobstructed view of the bustling scene below, enabling her to gauge immediate audience reactions.

Visitors to the V&A can easily envision Chanel herself peering down from this gleaming spiral staircase, analyzing and critiquing the assemblage of garments and accessories adorning mannequins below.

The V&A has consistently challenged conventional perspectives on fashion through previous exhibitions like “Africa Fashion” (2022–2023), “The Art of Menswear” (2022), “Mary Quant” (2019–2020), and the groundbreaking “Savage Beauty” by Alexander McQueen in 2015, following its initial success at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The exhibition is on display through February 25, 2024.

Featured Image: Gabrielle Chanel, Fashion Manifesto (installation view) at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo by Peter Kelleher. Source: Vogue UK


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