Currently Reading – Chanel by Amy de la Haye

I know we all love a juicy story, and that is what made the Chanel-with-a-Nazi-lover tale so great.  But sometimes we just need pure fashion, and that is what Amy de la Haye delivers in her book, Chanel.  In spite of the portrait of Coco Chanel on the cover, this book is not a biography.  It is a detailed overview of Chanel’s creations, and by Chanel it means both the woman and the company.

Of course it is pretty much impossible to explain Chanel’s work without examining her life to some extent.  More so than many designers, Chanel’s designs reflected what she experienced and lived and loved.  For instance, it is impossible to grasp her love of tweed without telling about her happy years in Scotland with the Duke of Westminster.  And you can see her religious training at the convent reflected in the symbols she used for her jewelry.

Chanel surveys the various stages of Coco Chanel’s career, from milliner to maker of jersey clothes to couture house in Paris to her comeback in 1954.  Her style and inspirations are broken down into segments of time, with each development building upon the last.

Today when many people think of  Chanel, they think of the suit that she developed in the early 1950s.  But de la Haye points out that Chanel was making similar suits in the 1920s.   Above you see an example from 1928.

The classic Chanel suit of the 1950s and 60s often came with a coordinating blouse.  The fabric of the blouse was often used as accents of trim on the suit.  Again, this coat and dress ensemble shows that Chanel was already using this technique in 1929.

De la Haye writes about how the company became stagnant after the death of Chanel in 1971.  It was not until Karl Lagerfeld showed his first collection for Chanel in 1983 that the house began to regain what it had lost.  From the beginning Lagerfeld made strong references to the signature designes that were associated with Chanel for so many years.  He took her love of camellias to a new level, and he took the famous chain from the strap of the 2.55 bag and the hem of the jacket to make it a prominent design feature.

Sometimes Lagerfeld will reference an entire collection from the past.  On the left you see a dress from Coco Chanel’s Tricolor collection of 1939.  Lagerfeld used that collection as the inspiration for his 2010 spring ready-to-wear showing, seen on the right.

There has been so much written about Chanel that it is hard to pick just one book on the topic.  For the person who is serious in the designs and the influences, this is the one I’d recommend.  For photos of Chanel and Lagerfeld’s work, then the catalog from the Met’s 2005 show is beautifully done.  And as for a pure biography, there are so many, that I really can’t suggest one.  Feel free to make a recommendation in the comments.

9 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

9 responses to “Currently Reading – Chanel by Amy de la Haye

  1. Diana Coleman

    I read “Chanel, A Woman of Her Own” by Axel Madsen about twenty years ago and did not think I would ever want to read another word about this despicable woman. Talented, yes….I love her style..but she was opportunistic and without a conscience. That said, the book you review about her business career may change my mind about reading another.
    There are no clothes and accessories I covet more than those from the House of Chanel.

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  2. this is a must have.
    that dress and coat set is lovely

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  3. That is going to be one well read jacket!

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  4. Thanks for sharing – I have seen this book but as I did not wanted to read or see any biography I was not even thinking of picking up it.
    Now I think I will do this … let’s check the online shop… :-)
    Yes… my jacket is still not yet in the picture… now it will move even further ….

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  5. A very quick and fun read about Chanel is the children’s book Different like Coco by Elizabeth Blackwell. (I think I have her name correct…) Some of Chanel’s witty quotes and a condensed time-line are included, both of which adults will enjoy, too!! Good luck as you begin your jacket, Lizzie!!

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  6. Pingback: A Thank You and a Giveaway | The Vintage Traveler

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