Melbourne hosts exhibition of 20th-century French designer Gabrielle Chanel

Melbourne hosts exhibition of 20th-century French designer Gabrielle Chanel

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Now Melbourne hosts an exhibition of one of the most influential fashion designers in the world. This is the first exhibition in Australia dedicated solely to the contribution to fashion of the 20th century French designer Gabrielle Chanel.

Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is an extensive and visually sumptuous exploration of Gabrielle Chanel's work and fashion heritage. The exhibition features more than 110 garments, 75 pieces of jewelry, as well as iconic perfumes, cosmetics and accessories that are still associated with the house of Chanel. The exhibits cover the period from 1916 to Chanel's last collection in 1971 and show how her design philosophy has led to a new and free silhouette of feminine elegance.

The exhibition takes place in the halls of the NGV in partnership with the leading Parisian fashion museum Palais Galliera (Palace of the Galliera), which opened this landmark exhibition in the fall of 2020 in France, and Melbourne became the first city outside France to host the exhibition.

Highlights are Chanel's early casual wear, her "little black dresses" of the 1920s, her "romantic" lace and tulle fashions of the 1930s, tweed suits of the 1950s, all of which are examples of contemporary femininity.

The first part of the exhibition is chronological, showing early models with several symbolic pieces, including the famous 1916 marinera, a jersey sailor blouse. We are invited to trace the development of Chanel's chic style from the little black dresses and sportswear of the Roaring Twenties to the sophisticated dresses of the 1930s.

Photographs of Gabrielle Chanel accompany sections of the exhibition and show the extent to which the couturier herself was the embodiment of her brand.

By the 1920s, Gabrielle Chanel had developed a reputation for designing laconic and functional clothing, often with a linear silhouette. However, in the 1930s, she often used lace or tulle to give her evening wear a softer and romantic feel, while still following her own distinctive design principles. A curved panel at the hips follows this dress's round neckline. The simple shape of the scarf flap allows you to gracefully drape the bodice in a variety of ways. Black lace was the hallmark of Chanel in the 1930s.

Likewise, brilliant beadwork was a feature of Chanel evening wear in the 1920s and 1930s, a period for sophisticated dresses, many of which featured just such embellishment techniques.

Chanel's designs from the 1930s may be less recognizable, but this was the period when the designer created some of her most interesting work, such as this full-length evening gown from the Chanel Spring/Summer 1939 collection. Crafted from a thin, lightweight, solid color silk weave with a picturesque cyclamen, green, blue and yellow feather pattern on a black background, this strapless dress features individual feather cutouts with carefully stitched edges that adorn the surface of the dress, bringing a two-dimensional design to life. This effect, enhanced by the use of dyed ostrich feathers around the bodice, is a playful nod to 1930s Surrealist art.

A 1939 evening dress with bright feather appliqués stands alone in a raised glass cabinet. This is the centerpiece of the room, which has video footage showing Chanel in the atelier during the draping process.

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