Pop quiz: What’s the difference between a fashion classic and a fashion icon? If distinctiveness and inimitability are part of the answer, then the Chanel jacket falls firmly under the latter category. Few garments in fashion history can lay claim to the same heritage and fame (cue the number of books and exhibitions that have been dedicated to it, or that G-Dragon and Pharrell have worn one).
A true icon however also possesses craft (see: G-Dragon and Pharrell) as well as relevance. And going by its Lesage-made tweed and the way Virginie Viard has playfully reimagined it for Cruise 2020 – her solo debut collection as Chanel’s creative director – the Chanel jacket is unequivocally Exhibit A.
The video above and gallery below aims to provide disciples of fashion and Chanel – both lifelong and aspiring – with a historical, sociological and technical view of the Chanel jacket so that they can better understand its cultural (and commercial) significance, and enduring appeal.
Course requirement: 110 seconds of your time. Note: You might feel compelled to buy a Chanel jacket after.
Part of the tweed suit Gabrielle Chanel (above) created in 1954 as a reaction against the constricting silhouettes of the time, the Chanel jacket has become an icon not only for the brand, but also in womenswear.
New editions such as Cruise 2020’s multi-pocket, safari jacket-esque rendition are introduced every season, but they never stray from the original construction: straight, structured and made from supple, lightweight tweed so that the wearer can move freely. Tweed jacket, metal and lambskin belt, and matching bracelet with resin
The scene of actress Romy Schneider resting casually across the floor while dressed in a baby blue Chanel tweed skirt suit in the 1962 film Boccaccio ’70 captures the cool, unfussy elegance that’s imbued into every Chanel jacket. Coco Chanel had specifically designed it to be comfortable and functional. Her ideology: “I really care about women and I wanted to dress them in suits that make them feel at ease, but that still emphasise femininity.”
Tweed forms the foundation of every Chanel jacket – a radical choice not only because it was originally used only in menswear (Coco Chanel was the first to co-opt it for women’s wear in the ’20s), but also because the brand’s renditions are lighter and suppler than usual to achieve maximum comfort. Handcrafted in the label’s own ateliers, the material alone is a fascinating canvas, reimagined countless times over – beaded, sequinned and interwoven with anything from feathers to strips of tulle, leather and lace – for textured finishes as eclectic and intricate as a Klimt.
To keep its structured shape without losing its soft feel, every Chanel jacket is mounted by hand along the straight grain (it has the least stretch, but is also the strongest). There are no bust darts (these add stiffness); the back possesses only a single seam down the middle; and there are as many lining panels inside as there are tweed panels on the exterior, invisibly stitched together so that they move as one. Sleeves are set high to further optimise movement while – what’s possibly the ultimate example of the exacting details that go into the garment – a brass chain is sewn into the hem so that the jacket drops just right when worn. Lesage tweed jacket, jersey swimsuit with glitter, and metal and lambskin belt
Designed to let one travel and live “without hindrance”, the collection – creative director Virginie Viard’s solo debut – offers a diverse variety of jackets. The options: single or double-breasted; with or without collar; shoulders that are strong and square or soft and round; as many as four pairs of pockets; and even cotton canvas and tweed versions. Jewelled buttons and leather-woven chain belts lend playful sophistication; ditto colours like pink and mauve. Regardless of style though, each adheres to the garment’s original codes of function and ease. After all, what more luxurious a way to see and enjoy the world?
Cue the celebrities who’ve anchored their red carpet looks with a Chanel jacket – and note how they vary in age and style: (Left to right) actress/model Astrid Berges-Frisbey and actress Lucy Boynton (continued on next slide)
Model Irina Shayk and director/friend-of-the-brand Sofia Coppola
Icon of French chic, Caroline de Maigret and Japanese actress, Ayami Nakajo
For a finishing touch, every classic Chanel jacket features artisanal braiding along its contours, cuffs and pocket edges while buttons lend gilded glamour – crafted in shiny galalith, metal or resin and embellished with a house motif such as the camellia or double “C”. In Cruise 2020, creative director Viard tones down these elements (the braiding and sheen of the buttons are subtler, for example) while introducing an intimate and labour-intensive decorative touch: a silk lining in the same pattern and flow as the tweed on the outside for the illusion of utter seamlessness. Cotton tweed jacket, matching skirt, cotton and silk voile top, and metal and resin earrings
Art direction Hisyam A Rahman Studio videography Alicia Chong Studio photography Phyllicia Wang Styling Noelle Loh Hair & Makeup Sha Shamsi Model Emilia P/Looque Vintage & runway visuals Courtesy of Chanel