In 1954, upon her return to Paris and Parisian haute couture, Gabrielle Chanel was standing in front of the cameras giving an interview against the Coromandel screens of her apartment on Rue Cambon, where she hadn’t lived for a long time, with a cigarette in-hand, wearing a suit she had just demonstrated as part of her new collection and would show in all the subsequent ones. The suit was a straight skirt and a straight tweed jacket with no collar or lapels, with a round neckline, contrasting seam lace, four pockets, silk lining and a chain sewn into the hemline for a perfect fit. Somewhat similar to the crimson couture jacket with dark blue trimming dating back to the 1960’s, a rare and valuable example of a garment made within Chanel’s lifetime, worthy of the Musee des Arts Dekoratifs collection. It even had a brooch with Gripoix crystals.

All buttons of the classical Chanel jacket carried the trademark logo. They had real and not false button holes; no additional lining or reinforcing elements between silk and tweed. It was a canon, other parts might be changed. The trimming might be both sharper or in matching colours, the cut might be v-shaped, then small flaps or a soft colour appeared (or both). The tweed jacket remained the same until Chanel’s death in 1971 and sometime afterwards, although instead of 4 pockets there might be 2, as on a rare and a very invigorating beige-orange jacket with a beige tape at the end of the 1970’s.

In 1983 the Wertheimer family that owned the Chanel brand hired a new art director to update Chanel’s legacy, tasked with a general upgrade to make the brand modern and to attract a new generation of clients. The new art director was Karl Lagerfeld. Usually, in such cases people write of “a new chapter started in the history of the fashion house”, and in this case the cliché was fulfilled quite vividly, because Karl Lagerfeld’s 30 years plus at Chanel have become a model of how to treat a historic fashion house and its exclusive legacy, and will enter (or has already entered) business textbooks.

Chanel

Lagerfeld set out Chanel’s legacy in terms of its characteristic pieces; and he began to develop each of them. This included Chanel’s jacket which began changing in line with current trends but nevertheless remained instantly recognizable. It could be slightly slim–fit and long, for example, like this delicately pink-lemon-blue chequered jacket with an exquisite round collar. It could be very slim-fitting and have a broadened shoulder line as per 1980’s-1990s fashion styles, like the black jacket with a black trimming and golden buttons, or it might be pin-tucked in the front and self-belted on the back, like the emerald green jacket (a rare and a very interesting design solution) with black trimming. It might be made not from tweed but preserving its recognizable outlook, such as the graphical jacket from the white and black couturier suit made from pied-de-poule chequered wool with black trimming, another rare, almost priceless item made during Chanel’s lifetime. It might be made not from tweed and have no trimming and be cut in the waistline – like the impressive cornflower blue from thin woolens with a collar, lapels and jewelry buttons with multi-colored crystals. Or, it may be the opposite: trimmed with a classical Chanel tape along all edges, including the collar, lapels, and the cut itself – like the monochromic inky jacket made from woollen crepe. However, it will still be instantly recognizable as a Chanel jacket, such was the power of the archetype Chanel created.

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Lagerfeld started experimenting with the tweed texture and trimming. Actually, it was Chanel herself who started this in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s when she evaluated the whole potential of tweed and realized how to “glamorize” this entirely unglamorous fabric. The loose texture of tweed allowed great flexibility – she braided in metal threads, silk bands, silk and cotton and even cellophane, achieving the most unexpected results.

These experiments were continued by Lagerfeld. For example, he does not only shorten the classical jacket, as the fashion of the 1990’s called for. He retained only two of the four pockets and constructed the sleeve 7/3, he braided in yellow mohair thread to match the colour of the golden buttons in the feature jacket of that time, a bright pink short collar-less jacket. Alternatively, he changed the tape for a broad satin band, like in another short jacket from milky tweed, also with two pockets. Or he uses braided leather for trimming, like in the dark green short and tight slim-fit jacket; adding some rock-‘n-roll elements to it. Both of the latter pieces; the milky and the dark-green ones; feature raglan sleeves that were common in the 1990’s. Generally, today Lesage workshops make tweed for the Chanel couture collections with unimaginable elements and the most complex of textures.