Fashion Manifesto: Chanel from the archives

Words by
Pippa Lowe

21st September 2023

With the opening of the Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto exhibition at the South Kensington V&A we take a look at some original Chanel images from the Illustrated London News archives. 

It’s here, the exhibition every fashion aficionado has been waiting for. Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, the UK’s first exhibition dedicated to the work of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. Exploring the classic rags-to-riches story of one of the world’s greatest fashion names and the modern elegance she delivered through the language of little black dresses and tweed suits far ahead of her time.

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto - Pink Tweed Suits
Pink tweed Chanel suits on display at the South Kensington V&A

Fashion Manifesto: Chanel from the archives

The exhibition features one of the earliest surviving Chanel garments from 1916, following through Gabrielle’s career to ensembles of Chanel’s final collection in 1971. Displaying looks from the Palais Galliera and the Patrimoine de Chanel yet weaving in a London twist with rarely seen pieces from the V&A’s own collection. As the V&A dip into their archives with the opening of the exhibition, we delve into ILN’s own archives and share original Chanel images from them. 

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto - Tweed Suit archive image
Illustrated London News image of a 1965 Chanel suit in a sooty black chenille, with a white satin shirt complete with Bijoux Christian Dior jade centred earrings

While Chanel’s simplistic chic may not be the most jaw-dropping compared to some shocking pieces spotted in the fashion world, the central hall lined with 53 vibrant tweed suits promises to be a showstopper that will leave you stunned. The image above from the ILN archives captures the essence of Chanel's designs in 1965. With the timeless contrast of white satin on black chenille in the iconic Chanel suit silhouette. This revolutionised fashion for the working woman by merging with patterns only seen in menswear at the time.

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto - Coco Chanel wearing designs
Coco Chanel in the garden of her hotel in the Faubourg St. Honore in a cardigan suit made with a sleeveless jumper of her own design in 1929

Chanel’s approach to womenswear not only impacted fashion but also nudged societal change. By forcing out corsets for more freeing styles, Chanel’s designs encouraged women to introduce more sport and exercise into their routines. Above is an image of Coco wearing her own cardigan suit design in 1929 and below is an original advert for Marshall & Snelgrove from 1933 featuring Chanel’s comfortable pullover designs.

Although designed in France, these pullovers were made in Scotland. The exhibition at the V&A differs from the original exhibition at the Palais Galliera not only by intertwining the collection with V&A archive pieces but by highlighting Chanel’s British inspiration in her works. From collaboration with British textile firms to her famed use of tweed.

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto - Marshall and Snelgrove
An advert for Marshall and Snelgrove in 1933 featuring two models in stripy pullovers for Chanel

Gracing the front page of The Tatler in 1929 is an image of Coco, tennis racket in hand, beside Alain Gerbault at Eaton Hall. This image was taken shortly after Gerbault, the French lawn tennis star and captain of the Firecrest, had attempted to sail around the world. During this time the pictured pair were also said to have enjoyed a romantic liaison.  

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto - The Tatler Front Cover
Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel and Alain Gerbault at Eaton Hall on the front cover of The Tatler in 1929. 

The exhibition doesn’t only deliver on fabric fabulously draped on mannequins, with support offered from an iconic collection of Chanel quilted accessories. As well as original glass perfume bottles, better known filled with the golden neroli nectar we know and love. Below is an original advert for Chanel No 5 from 1965. With its diamond-cut stopper and geometric shape that remains near unchanged to this day, Chanel No 5 was a significant turning point within the fashion house's breakthrough into beauty. Since its introduction in 1921, the fragrance has been famously featured in the hands of Marilyn Monroe amongst other reported fans including Claudia Schiffer and Celine Dion. The perfume, both bottle and fragrance, remains a symbolic motif of the Chanel name.

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto - Chanel No 5
Original Chanel No 5 advertisement from 1965

Although booked up after taking the fashion community by storm, Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto will be running at the V&A South Kensington until the 25th February 2024 and is still available to those with a V&A membership. 

Find out more about V&A memberships to visit Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto amongst other exhibitions on the door.