Even if the Chanel style is not your style, there is no denying that there is a before and after Gabrielle Chanel in terms of fashion. But my admiration for her is not only because of her tweed suits or her two-toned shoes. My strongest admiration is for her talent, determination, and laser-focused vision. It is because of them that regardless of what you do and how you dress, you for sure have heard the name Chanel and you most probably have a little black dress hanging in your closet. When I received the invitation to visit the “Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifest” Exhibition that is taking place in Paris, I felt blessed beyond words because the event has been sold out for weeks. I remember watching the Chanel Fall 2021 Haute Couture Fashion Show that just took place at the Palace Galliera, and thinking how meaningful it was that Virginie Viard was showcasing her new collection in the same venue where so many designs from Coco Chanel herself were being exhibited. While the models walked down the Galliera’s incredible staircases, past, present, and future were sharing the same point in place and time, and it felt almost magical. Not in a million years I would have ever imagined that just a few days after watching that video I would be walking up those same stairs to visit the very first Parisian retrospective dedicated to the work and influence of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.
To say it was breathtaking is an understatement. The event is masterfully curated, showcasing garments, jewels, accessories, sketches, notes, and audiovisuals with the same style and elegance Chanel herself would have done it. It is an immersive experience that highlights her outstanding work and everlasting influence. The exhibition starts at the Galliera’s first level, with some of her first designs dating from the 1910s and it almost hits you how clear her vision comes through. You realize how incredibly recognizable her style was from the start and how she was able to create timeless fashion from the very beginning. Her unwillingness to follow trends and her determination to listen and follow her own instinct was the secret to her success because it created a space of her own, where she chose to approach fashion with refinement and elegance with comfort, making women the focus of it all. The exhibition invites you to see how she played with the juxtaposition of opposite elements like black and white, feminine, and masculine, simple lines with intricate textiles. And you understand that her approach was based on simplicity, achieved by refined haute couture techniques that balanced contrasting ideas to create interest.
The exhibition then takes you downstairs, where the first accessories are showcased in the magnificent brick-covered walls of the cellars. An impressive array of jewelry is displayed, where you also get to see the first prototype of her two-toned shoe and her famous 2.55 handbag. You learn how she started working with fabric houses and how she understood that she wanted to create more than just fashion. She was focused and fully determined in creating a style. And that was exactly what she did, revolutionizing the fashion industry and changing the world along the way.
Throughout the entire exhibition, you can feel her presence and her spirit. This event truly highlights the work and accomplishments of a woman that stood apart from the rest, from where she provided a new look at fashion and a different perspective on how to approach it. This exhibition is not only a manifest but a testament to the influence of a woman that lived and thought ahead of her time. An icon that changed fashion so it could properly become the highlight of the wearer. A designer that opened the path to all that would come after her to continue the journey she started. A woman that singlehandedly revolutionized an entire industry twice in a century, and the world forever. Coco Chanel is inimitable. Her influence is everlasting. Her style is unique. And this Fashion Manifesto not only honors her but also decodifies the formula that made her timeless.