Tag Archives: Chanel

Of Suntanning and Pantalets

Photo found on Wikipedia

I have a really short attention span.  I can’t blame my age because I’ve always been this way.  I’ll be interested in one thing and then in my pursuit of it notice another, and so off I go in that direction.  I think that is why I like writing this blog.  I can chase whatever rainbow crosses my sky.

I might have mentioned here that I’m working on a program about women’s camp and hiking attire.  Since I was doing the work anyway I decided to expand the research in order to write a paper for possible presentation or publication.  And the topic is so interesting to me that I thought I’d have little trouble staying on track.

Wrong.  Everywhere I turn there I see another route I want to take, another fascinating fact to share, another article to read and think about.  And it is funny how when a topic gets into the consciousness, related topics tend to pop up as well.

Last week I went to the Metrolina Marketplace for a bit of recreational treasure hunting.  A women had her half-grown puppy there, and she was really making a spectacle of herself – the dog, not the owner.  This was a dog who knew how to command a crowd, and she was working the flea market with a very skilled paw.

Turns out the dog is a Coton de Tulear by the name of Coco Chanel.  The Coton de Tulear is a fairly rare breed, and I’m sure the owner chose the name because it symbolized glamour and fashion to her.  Frankly, I’d never name an animal for a notorious Nazi-lover, and it occurred to me that people must either not care that Chanel was such an odious person (her words, not mine), or they don’t actually know much about her.

But the encounter with the sweet dog with the sadly inappropriate name must have put Chanel in the forefront of my thoughts, because I keep finding her in my reading.

One of my finds from the weekend was a 1909 issue of McCall’s Magazine.  I usually don’t buy McCall’s, but this one had an article I knew would be helpful in my research, What Summer Camps Are Doing for Society Girls.  But that’s not the only gem in this issue, as I also noted Fashions for the Seaside, Suggestions for the Fair Traveler, and Packing for the Vacation Trip.  It’s almost as if those editors back in 1909 had me in mind when planning this issue.

One of the things that Chanel is almost always credited with is the popularization of the suntan.  I’ve read that nobody but nobody sported a tan before Chanel.  But here I found in this 1909 magazine a reference to tanning:

Poets have sung the charms of the “nut-brown maid” and it is not to be denied that a good coat of tan is very becoming to many people. If our annual seaside jaunt has no worse effect upon our tender skins than the transforming for a while to one of rich olive tone we should have very little to complain of.

The writer does go on to warn the reader of the burning effects of the sun, but the paragraph makes very clear that intentional suntanning was already being practiced and was considered to be desirable quite a few  years before Chanel supposedly introduced the practice to the world.

And that is one thing that bugs me about Chanel.  The stories told and retold about her border on myth.  I don’t understand why we can’t be content to let the woman’s real accomplishments – and there were many – be enough.

A day later I was reminded of Chanel again.  I was looking through my collection of pre-1930 vintage magazines to see if I could spot any references to pants being worn by women.  I expected to see beach pyjamas and knickers for skiing and breeches for riding, but I was completely surprised to find the image above in a 1924 Vogue.

Chanel makes a suit-dress of light grey Oxford cloth with a slightly fitting coat, a grey crepe bodice, and a skirt that may be worn buttoned or unbuttoned, over the grey crepe pantalets.

By the time this suit was conceived by Chanel, women had been wearing skirts over pants for biking and hiking for several decades.   It was not a new idea, but what was new was that this was not an ensemble that was intended for active sports.  This was a fashion garment, and the pants were meant to be seen.

I found another, similar example in a 1925 Vogue, but this idea must have been too outre for the mid 1920s.  Pants for women were strictly for sports and the boudoir and Chanel’s idea did not catch on.  But it does show us just how modern Chanel was, and how her ideas for women’s wear were on the cutting edge.  It seems a shame that she be remembered more for the little black dress and for suntanning than she is for the ideas that were truly forward-thinking.




Filed under Designers, Viewpoint

Alpine Fashion: From the 1940s to Chanel 2015

photo copyright Chanel.com


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

1960s Chanel-Inspired Davidow Jacket, Part II

Earlier in the summer I posted about a great find I made, an early 1960s Davidow jacket that was clearly Chanel-inspired.  Unfortunately, there was no matching skirt, so instead of buying this jacket for my collection, I bought it to actually wear.

On the negative side was the condition of the lining.  As you can see, there were major issues in the underarm area.  I decided that the best thing to do was to send the piece off to the dry cleaners and then replace the lining.  The problem then became one of finding a nice silk fabric that would go with the tweed.  It’s times like this that I really miss Waechter’s.  I did try the remaining fabric store in the area that carries luxury fabrics, House of Fabrics, but they did not have a suitable match.

The tweed is so wonderful.  It really looks a lot like the tweeds that Bonnie Cashin used in her beautiful coats. But the two shades of blue were proving to be a color challenge.  Then while sorting through some damaged scarves, I happened on a nice old Vera polka dot.   It was not large enough for the entire job, but I also had an oblong scarf in ombre blues that could be used for the sleeves.

This is the point where I make the cutting up old stuff disclaimer.  If you are a vintage clothing shopper then you are well aware that much of what is on the market is not in its original form.  If someone were to run across my bell bottoms from 1973 they would wonder why would anyone mutilate a pair of pants like that.  Well, I cut them off because I am very short.  I also chopped off my skirts and dresses.  My cutting was part of the history of the garments, but it would tend to make them less attractive to a collector today.

Unfortunately there are sellers who are still cutting old clothing up in order to make it marketable to a certain market.  I’m not saying that it is always a bad idea to cut up old clothing; I’m saying it needs to be done thoughtfully, keeping in mind several factors.  You would like to think that anyone would know not to cut into a Charles James, but not everyone who loves old stuff is concerned with designer names.  My big fear in condoning “up-cycling” is that important pieces are being lost. Condition also plays a role, but even a very damaged Charles James is a valuable treasure.

The truth is that most clothing does not end its life as it began it.  I can be very much against remodeling vintage clothes, but then I do have to fact the fact that the mere act of wearing a garment shortens its life.  It is possible to love a garment to death, as you probably know from experience.

So what if you have a common item that is damaged, like my Vera scarf?  I feel I can cut into it with a clear conscience.  (Be aware that while Vera scarves were made by the thousands, some designs are quite rare and valuable.  Research before cutting.)  The jacket, while lovely and very wearable, is less collectible minus the skirt.  I’ll be wearing it, hopefully for a very long time.  It is quite possible that I will love it to death.

I carefully removed the old lining and removed the seams so I could use the pieces as a pattern.  The sleeve is made from two pieces, and I had just enough silk to make the pieces.  I attached them by hand, using the fringe of the scarf at the cuff.

When that was finished I cut out the bodice, using the border of the Vera scarf as part of the design. Here you can see that there was no underlining in the jacket.  The seams were in good condition.  I attached each piece to the jacket separately.

Because there was a pattern to the dotted design, I cut the back from the very middle of the scarf so that the density design would be retained.  The last pieces that I attached were the sides of the bodice.

When doing something like this, lots of basting is essential.  The silk is slippery, and the more control you have, the better.

The last step, one that I’m still working on, is the quilting.  I decided to let the dots determine the quilting design.  I’m not going to quilt every dot.  I’m already seeing spots in front of my eyes from working with it.

I’ll be changing the buttons as well.  I thought I’d found the perfect buttons, some that I’d salvaged from a destroyed sweater, but they are not the quality I was wanting, so they will probably be temporary until I can locate exactly what I need.


Filed under Sewing, Vintage Clothing

Chanel Couture, Summer 2014

In case you missed it, the Paris Haute Couture shows were last week.  Compared to the ready-to-wear fashion weeks that are soon to come, these shows cause hardly a ripple.  But these clothes are surely the clothes of dreams, and I can dream with the best of them.

I don’t watch them all, but Chanel is always interesting from an historian’s point of view.  Karl Lagerfeld has the task of making each collection look like a Chanel collection, and I love seeing how he does it.

The big idea was the cropped jackets that expose a corset made from the same fabric.  I can’t imagine how Mademoiselle Chanel would feel about corsets, but Karl obviously liked them, because the majority of the looks featured one.

The idea worked better with some looks than with others.  When I was watching the runway show I thought that the models were wearing form-fitting camisoles, and I wanted to throw some of the women a doughnut.  They just looked so skinny.  This ensemble is a good example.  Personally, I think this would look so much better without a tiny little waist.  That means these clothes might actually flatter a more mature figure.  The tops might be a little too short for most tastes, but hey, this is couture.  If you are paying the equivalent of the price of a car for a dress, I think they might accommodate your desire for a longer top.

All the commentary I’ve read about this show has focused on one accessory – the shoes.   Just when we thought the running shoe with a dress look was firmly in the past, we have Lagerfeld reminding us that there are shoes that can be walked in.  The models skipped and hopped down a grand staircase, adding to the effect of lightness in the clothes.

It made for a fun show, but would anyone actually wear the shoes with a couture outfit?  I don’t know, but I have read several laments by the fashion crowd because the only way to get a pair is to order one of the couture dresses or suits.   That, plus the 3000 euro price tag might be a bit discouraging.  3000 euros is $4100 by the way, and is expensive even for Chanel.  The boots I loved so much from the pre-fall collection were “only” $1600.

I won’t be surprised to see a cheaper collection show up for summer.

I didn’t much care for the pants looks, but I wanted to show this one because of the white collar and cuff, and the black tie.  So Chanel.  And have I seen a similar look from years past?  It just looks so familiar.

The lack of   accoutrements was a bit unusual, but I loved the clean look of just the dress, the girl, and her sneakers.

But when he did add accessories, he really added them.  Is she accident prone, or just a skateboarder wannabe?  And yes, that is a fanny pack.

These full length shots do not tell the entire story.  To see just how special these looks are, you have to see the garments close-up.  Here you can see the details of the very first look.  To see more, there is a slideshow at Chanel.com.  Be sure to zoom.

All photos copyright of chanel.com.


Filed under Designers, Shoes

1960s Suit by Davidow

One of the chapters in Claire Shaeffer’s new book, The Couture Cardigan Jacket, shows how to distinguish between an authentic vintage Chanel jacket and an authorized copy.  In the past, American ready-to-wear makers, and even department stores that had their own sewing workshops, could buy the rights to make and sell couture copies.  One of the best known makers of Chanel copies was Davidow.

Today we hear the word “copy” and we think of an illegal activity.  But this practice was perfectly legal.  In the photo below which was taken from the October 15, 1960 issue of Vogue, squint and you can read, “Suit copy by Davidow at Bonwit Teller.  Chanel copies all five pages. ”

Photo copyright Conde Nast Publications, 1960

Davidow made both Chanel-inspired suits and as seen above, faithful Chanel copies, right down to the same fabric and Chanel buttons.  They were not couture, but they were luxury ready-to-wear and as such were quite expensive.

My suit is of the Chanel-inspired variety.  Still, it is a very nice suit with all sorts of lovely details.

Here is the Davidow label.  But what if my label were missing?  How could I tell that this is not a couture suit?

The first hint is the lining fabric.  While the fashion fabric – the outside fabric that everyone sees – is a very nice tweedy silk, the lining is an average quality acetate.  In a couture suit the lining would be silk.

As you would find in a couture suit, the sleeve is nicely shaped to fit the bend of the elbow.  However, this sleeve is constructed from two pattern pieces.  Chanel couture sleeves have three pieces.

My suit has a vent at the sleeve cuff, but the button is sewn to secure the vent.  In a couture suit there would be a functioning buttonhole through which the button would fasten.

My suit has topstitching around the collar and the front edges.  The topstitching was sewn after the jacket was constructed.  In a Chanel couture jacket, the topstitching will be only on the outside layer and is stitched before the pieces are constructed.

The buttonholes on my suit are bound.  On a Chanel couture jacket the buttonholes are handworked, with a faux bound hole on the lining.

On copies, the flaps often do not have a real pocket beneath.  However, my suit has two actual pockets and two faux pockets.  You might think that all Chanel couture suits would have pockets beneath all flaps, but Shaeffer’s research has shown this to not be true.  Chanel often used faux flaps as well.

My jacket is also not quilted and there is no chain along the edge of the hem.  But it does have a nice Lord and Taylor label.

To see some great ads from the early 1960s which show Davidow suits, visit Jen’s blog, Pintucks.


Filed under Uncategorized

Little French Jacket Update

I know that some readers were interested in hearing how the progress of my latest sewing project is going.  I’ve finally stopped reading and looking at videos and photos, and I’ve begun the actual work.

To be honest, the hardest part has been deciding on the features I want the jacket to have.  Above you can see the classic jacket as drafted by Claire Shaeffer.  It has all the bells and whistles and immediately calls to mind the work of Coco Chanel.  I’ve realized that if I’m going to put this much work into a sewing project, the end result is going to have to really suit my needs and style.

The classic and basic jacket is just too “dressy” for the life I lead.  I know that a 20-something model type could throw on that jacket over jeans and look perfect.  But I’m older, and I want something fun and playful, not something I’d only wear on dressy occasions.

So I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the past collections at Chanel, looking for inspiration.  One of my all time favorites is the fall 2004 collection, and I especially loved this one:

I’ve actually been saving photos of jackets I love, just waiting for the time I could buy one.  But my gosh, the price goes up every year, and the $3000 suit that seemed to be such an extravagance in the 1980s today looks like a bargain compared to $6000 for a ready-to-wear jacket alone.   My only option was to make my own.  Luckily I had all those photos going back  fifteen years to show what really attracted me.

My jacket will be quite similar to the one above.  To the original pattern I’ll be adding a collar and removing the button closing.  I’m planning on just two pockets and self-fringe trim.  I’m still using Claire’s pattern but with the modifications.

As for now, I’ve finished the toile and the fitting.  The only major alteration was in the shoulders, as mine are very narrow.  I’ve begun work on the pieces, using Claire’s book and video as a guide to marking and thread tracing the fabric. I just about have the front finished.

So far, the process has been quite easy, but all the hand work takes a lot of time.  I actually enjoy hand stitching, so it is not a chore.  But it does require lots of patience.  I’ve always been a slow sewer, and so that helps.

I cannot stress how helpful Claire Shaeffer’s book, and especially the accompanying dvd, have been.  If you are considering making your own jacket using couture techniques and cannot take a class, I highly recommend the book and dvd.  Even though I’ve been sewing for 40 years, t is just amazing how much I’m learning about construction.

Unfortunately, I have problems with inflammation in my hands, so I’m limited to only a couple of hours a day of  hand work.  So don’t expect to see the finished product for a while yet.

I’ll not be posting any more updates here, but I am trying to post a daily photo of my progress on Instagram.  You can see the photos without having an account.



Filed under Sewing

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.


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers