Alpine Fashion: From the 1940s to Chanel 2015

photo copyright


Once a year Chanel takes their show on the road with what they call the metiers d’art pre-fall show.  This year’s show took place in Salzburg, Austria and was a tribute to the Alpine look.  According to Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel got the idea for her 1950s jacket from the bell boy jackets at a Salzburg hotel in which she had stayed.

I’d wondered how Karl was going to make edelweiss chic, and you can see the how of it in the photo above.  By combining the trademark Chanel quilting pattern with the flowers at each point you can see how he took his bag of Chanel tricks, threw in the Alpine clichés, and came up with a collection that was uneven but interesting.  Some of the pieces were stunningly beautiful, as one would expect from Chanel.

As with all Chanel collections, the jackets and sweaters are my favorite pieces.  It has occurred to me that to replicate the look, it would be cheaper to fly to Munich for a week during Oktoberfest and do your shopping in one of the many trachten ( folkloric clothing) stores.  Or you could visit a button seller for edelweiss buttons to replace the buttons on a jacket you already have.  Either way, for less than the cost of a Chanel jacket you and a friend can enjoy one of the biggest parties in Europe.

Last week French television aired a program about Nazi collaborators who were artists and prominent people.  Coco Chanel was the star of the show.   The House of Chanel released a statement to the effect that there was nothing new in the program.  True, as Hal Vaughan published this information over two years ago.   Still, I find it a bit odd that the new collection has such a strong Germanic bent.  Perhaps Salzburg was chosen as the venue as Berlin or Munich would have made the connection clearer.

It will be interesting to see if this collection ends up sparking a trend in the way that Alpine inspired looks were a trend in the late 1930s and into the 40s.  To look at that trend, I’ve reprinted below a post I wrote four years ago about the Alpine trend during the 1940s.   I’m sorry the photos are not up to the standards here, but you can see how I’ve improved them over the years.

In the late 1930s and all during WWII, clothes with an Alpine (or Bavarian, or Tyrolean) flavor were very popular.  This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.

In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership actively encouraged the wearing of  Germanic Folk Costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images.  The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.

In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935.  Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes  in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler.  By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the  US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.

As  the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular.  Interestingly, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress.  From a 1943 ad:

Lanz faithful, classic suit of long-wearing, all-wool tweed, with warm boxy coat to match.  Colorful applique adds that gay spice for which Lanz is famous.

But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US?  I  have some theories.  First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s.  Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular.  The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.

Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets.  It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.

If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.

Whatever the reason, Lanz and other companies produced some really cute things.  I realized that I have a sort of mini-collection of these 1930s and 1940s Germanic fashions:

This label is from the dress at the top of the post.  Mid 1940s, made in the US

Early 1940s Jacket, with its label below

Made in Austria embroidered gloves

Unlabeled Jumper with embroidered trim.  This style jumper was very popular during the war.

Embroidered and appliqued belt, late 1930s

This vest was bought in a London department store, and is labeled Swiss Style.  Love the Edelweiss!


Filed under Designers, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing, World War II

15 responses to “Alpine Fashion: From the 1940s to Chanel 2015

  1. I love that black Lanz jacket with the red scrollwork decoration! Just this week I got a National Geographic catalog with several lovely boiled wool jackets, including this “Belvedere Palace Wool Jacket” :
    It’s also available in black with gray and white embroidery. Are folks at National Geographic Karl Lagerfeld fans?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i truely love it Ms. Lizzie! YOU always cut through it!…and in a logical/grounded way as well! I must agree as well…Karl(and staff) have been taking gross liberties and “reinventing” Chanel for runway glamour mostly…Karl has always been a great designer – he has taken a few wonderful personal/feminine Chanel touches (camelia , ropes of pearls,gold chains – the subtle tip of a cloache or boater hat ….the netted coctail veil) and her great way of borrowing mens wear tweeds and flanels and blown it so far out of the original intention…what inspired Chanel to dedo a German/Alpine influenced collection does not leave much question!? Inspired/chided…would not one be “inspired” surrounded by the SS/Nazi “guests” in Paris ?!?? Or- dining with them at the Ritz every evening? How much proof do we have from Karl re: Chanel ever doing a collection of this Alpine influenced stuff? There is nothing new about grey wool pants and a bell boy jacket! the model wearing this looks like a school girl(that throws off the elegant – super rich customer profile base? ??..just a few thoughts…Karl is great..the Alpine collection is as close as they have been to doingtheir own thing in years?


  3. Christina

    There was a convergence of alpine folk influence in fashion during the 1930’s. Patriotism in Europe and Germany, ski resorts in Austria and Switzerland were popular with tourists from abroad and the book “Heidi” apparently added to the interest in folkloric alpine style.


  4. Well, lets not forget that Hitler was actually an Austrian!
    But on the theme of Alpine style–I must say that I have never liked it, maybe because I’m not that fond of wool. I did wear a lot of Lanz clothes when in high school, but I don’t remember any Edelweiss decoration.


  5. I love your take on the Chanel show, Lizzie. It’s a little too “Sing-a-long Sound of Music” for me. It seems like that kind of Mountain chic goes in and out. I remember a big resurgence in the early 60s when skiing became mainstream. And traces of that look, plus the Ralph Lauren faux western Americana, are always big at the upscale ski resorts (though I prefer the Bond Chick look).


  6. I’m so glad you posted about this Chanel collection! In some ways it makes total sense. It reminded me of the way Karl did that beautiful Scotland themed collection a year or so ago. But yes, also seems like somewhat odd timing, considering the “old” news of Chanel’s Nazi ties. But y’know, I kind of think Karl does whatever Karl wants.

    I really loved some pieces in this new collection. . . others not so much. But what I *really* adore is that first dress posted from your collection and the gloves. So gorgeous!


    • That Scotland collection is still my all-time favorite collection by Lagerfeld for Chanel. I felt that this Austrian would be a bit more of a challenge. It you look at the slideshow I linked to be sure to hover over the photos for the enlargements. A show like this really is in the details, and they are magnificent!


  7. Pingback: How I Collect – 1940s | The Vintage Traveler

  8. Pingback: Summer Fashions and More from July, 1937 | witness2fashion

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