Lately, I’ve been fascinated by Chanel history. I’ve been reading Vogue on Coco Chanel and a lot of things stood out to me. One of those things: the Tweed suit. (Particularly the jacket- what we now know as the Chanel jacket).
I’m willing to bet you’ve seen a Chanel jacket before and the chances are, you’ve also worn one at some point.
What I find so interesting about this fact is this: the Chanel jacket was designed in 1925. Despite this, it remains a classic staple and I doubt it’s going away anytime soon. So, while we call it a part of Chanel history, it’s actually been in fashion for almost 100 years!!
I can’t help but wonder if anything will ever rival it! Sure, we have a lot of jackets that originate in history. But for me, none of them stand out the way the Chanel jackets do.
So, I decided to try making one myself…
But before I get to that, I will share a brief Chanel history (If you only want to read about the jacket I made, scroll down).
To keep this post from turning into a book, I will focus the on Coco Chanel History- meaning the person, how the brand got started, and the introduction of the Chanel jacket.
Coco Chanel Before Couture
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born August 19, 1883.
As a young child, Gabrielle’s father dropped her and her sister at an orphanage because their mother had passed away (Nice Father!- he kept the boys as he figured they could help him make money).
The orphanage is where Gabrielle learned to sew. Eventually, she grew up and found herself needing a job. She decided to work as both a maid and a singer in cabarets. During her performances, she developed a reputation for singing a song called “Qui Qu’a va Coco?” (don’t quote me on this because my French isn’t so good but I believe it was about finding a dog that ran away). This is what led to her famous nick name: Coco.
By 1904, Coco was working in a tailoring shop and met Étienne Balsan. Étienne was a textile heir and race-horse owner. The two became an item and Coco often attended the horse races along with him.
At these events, Coco was often in the company of aristocrats who dressed in the latest fashions of the times- very restrictive clothing that focused on creating an hourglass figure. It also included dramatically large hats. Coco despised this style. She believed women should feel at ease and be comfortable as well as elegant.
Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams”.Coco Chanel
During this time, Coco stuck to her own ideas of fashion. She took a more tom boy approach inspired by the men in the stables. This included hats that were small and simple. Catching the interest of Emilienne d’Alençon. Because people seen Emilienne wearing the hats at the races, a demand for them quickly developed.
The Beginning of the Chanel History (the brand)
With the financial backing of her then lover, Arthur Boy Capel, Coco was able to open a small hat shop. The success of the shop led to Coco deciding, in 1913, to open her first boutique on rue Gontaut-Biron (a street known for having the most fashionable shops).
Her first items included turtle neck sweaters, straight linen skirts and sailor’s blouses.
Once the war broke out, the mood in society quickly changed. It moved away from the hourglass focus towards more practical, yet still elegant attire. Coco’s design aesthetic was already in tune with this mood. Which led her to great success.
In 1915 this success (and again, combined with the support of Capel), led to Coco opening her first maison de couture in Biarritz.
One of her earliest collections (which was immensely popular) focused on jersey tailoring- including many pieces that were relatively unfitted.
Fast forward to the 1920s. Coco was again inspired by the comfort and ease of men’s clothing. It’s been said that she actually wore the clothing of her lover at this time- the Duke of Westminster.
From this inspiration, Coco designed a collection using Tweed (up until this time, tweed was used only for men’s clothing). In 1925, she introduced the tween suit for women. Overtime, she improved her designs and clothing by developing a new type of tweed. She combined tweed with silk and wool to create a lighter and more elegant fabric.
As you know, the jackets of the tweed suits are straight without any shaping (giving them an almost boxy appearance).
While Christian Dior’s “New Look” in 1947 (which was a step back into cinched waists and voluminous skirts to create the ‘ultra femininity’) threatened the success of the Chanel jacket, it didn’t last. But the jacket did!
Almost 100 years later, we’re still wearing them!
My Chanel Jacket
Some of you may know that I started making this Chanel jacket in the spring this year ( I used Vogue 8804)At first, I wanted to make as much of it using contour methods as possible. However……. I overlooked one thing: I have little-to-no patience!
The amount of work that actually goes into making a couture Chanel jacket is …. not for me! It took a lot longer to make this jacket then I anticipated. Partly, because I kept doing a little at a time and then putting it off for weeks. Partly, because hand stitching takes forever!
Before even getting started, there was a lot to do.
First, I cut out the pattern pieces. Next, I fused each pattern piece to interfacing. Then I cut out the lining and quilted it to each pattern piece.
Finally, I was ready to start sewing!
I did use a sewing machine to stitch the boucle together. At this point, you stitch only the outer fabric (boucle) together. You then go back and press the seams open and the hems up, and then hand stitch the lining together at all the seams and hemline.
So, I did all that!
But.. I forgot to increase the sleeve length!!
I did make a toile which is how I knew I wanted longer sleeves.
So, I don’t know why but it just slipped my mind!
After all that stitching, I had to remove the sleeves and re-do them.
Once I re-made the sleeves, I was FINALLY ready to do the button holes, buttons, pockets and trims (I opted for the machine stitched button holes instead!)
At this point, I haven’t added the pockets. But I do plan to– someday haha.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences- have you hand sewn anything? Do you want to one day? Let me know in the comments!