My fascination with a French designer

Hello everyone, My name is Sonja and I have a blog called ‘sewing a la carte.’ Here you see me in my favourite C3 style. Classic, comfortable, casual clothes. A bit of ‘oh là là’ and ‘je ne sais quoi.’ As you probably have guessed according to my first four sentences, and my blog name, my style hero is Coco Chanel. 

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Coco Chanel was born as Gabrielle Chanel. She created some timeless designs that are still populair today. Until today in every Chanel fashion show you still can see her famous jacket and little black dresses (LBD for insiders).

But these two style pieces aren’t the only thing she did for women’s fashion. Coco Chanel started making clothes for women in a time women were still wearing corsets. 

Four of her iconic designs that I like to make were introduced in her early days as a fashion designer: the 20’s and 30’s of the twentieth century.

Breton Top

In 1917 Chanel introduced stripes into her collection. She was inspired by the sailor’s uniform when she was visiting the French coast. She introduced this striped garment for women that was suitable to wear during seaside holidays.

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The Breton Top is now a classic and iconic piece of clothes with many faces. It was and is worn by many of us and some famous people as well like Pablo Picasso, James Dean, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn.

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The Breton Top is a great casual top that is relaxed but also stylish. I make them as refashion but also from new fabric. I can’t resist making at least one a year.

Yachting Pants

Women wear nowadays trousers and jeans just as easily as they wear dresses and skirts. Until 1920 it was unacceptable for women to wear trousers. Coco Chanel introduced in that year the yachting pants: a loose fitted, wide, relaxed, elegant pair of trousers. It you weren’t walking it looked more like a skirt then a pair of trousers. These yachting pants became very popular. Wide legged trousers aren’t my cup of tea so I haven’t made any in this style. However I like to wear jeans and trousers and combine them with a basic T-shirt and a Chanel style jacket.

Chanel Jacket

Now over to her most famous design, the Chanel jacket. Chanel wore often menswear for the comfortable fit and the beautiful fabrics. The Chanel suit also has its origin in menswear. After wearing a tweed jacket from her boyfriend at one point she realised how comfortable it was to wear, and she also liked the beauty of the tweed fabric. The famous jacket is part of the Chanel suit. Chanel introduced this two piece tweed wear in 1923 to a selected group of fashion journalists. They weren’t overwhelmed by the design. The suit barely got a review and no photos showed in fashion magazines. After WWII she reintroduced the suit. Times had changed. The second wave of feminism was about to start. Just like in WWI women entered the labour market again during WWII. Women wanted equal rights like voting and earnings. It was a perfect design for women to wear to the the office. It was also the time that domestic electric sewing machines were affordable so women could make their own versions of the Chanel suit.

When I decided to make all my own clothes in April 2014 my second make was a Chanel style jacket.

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It was made from a remnant. I also made two for our youngest daughter.

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After making my first Chanel style jacket I got intrigued by the techniques used in making this famous jacket. I have one in my wardrobe with a chain in the hem: one of the signature techniques of this famous jacket. Another signature technique is the quilting, which I haven’t done yet, but I have a piece a beautiful tweed fabric in my stash that will be used after I’ve done some more research and a lot of practicing.

Little Black Dress

Her LBD, introducedin 1926, really has been a fashion game-changer. Women wore only black while mourning. Vogue introduced this dress type as ‘a sort of uniform for all women of taste.’

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If you don’t know what to wear at an occasion just wear a LBD. I have nine dresses in my wardrobe and four of them are of the LBD type. I always make them fitted but if one can make them as loose fitted as well.

What are your thoughts on Coco Chanel? Do you like her designs as much as I do? Or do have another famous designer that is your style hero?

Editor’s note: Some of our readers flagged that Coco Chanel collaborated with the Nazis during WWII. For more information, read her fascinating Wikipedia article here. We appreciate the chance to learn and contextualise Chanel’s groundbreaking fashion with her historical context. 


17 thoughts on “My fascination with a French designer

  1. I love Chanel. Coco’s designs are timeless and elegant, as you demonstrate above. If I could afford Couture the House of Chanel would still be on my shopping list.

  2. My style heroine from an earlier time frame is Madeleine Vionnet. She designed gowns which were flowing and sensuous due to their cut on the bias. LOVE her work and have made a few silk garments on the bias in “appreciation” 🙂 It was Vionnet who discarded the corset saying it distorted a woman’s natural shape where draping on the bias flattered it 🙂 Coco Chanel was always too structured and fitted for my taste – but everyone should have a style icon! It really helps with directing our sewing projects to ultimately reflect what we like to reflect and wear.

  3. I love that LBD you made – that is gorgeous! And the Hepburn re-enacted shot is so perfect. I’ve never felt comfortable in the classic boxy Chanel jacket – it’s not my style, but I do appreciate some fine tuned techniques!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words on the LBD and my Hepburn re-enacted shot. One can so much learn from how couture is made. Sadly lot of these tailoring techniques are getting lost. Although it’s understandable due to all the labour costs.

  4. So cool Sonja! I didn’t put 2 and 2 together about your blog name until now. (Of course I want to see you in some wide legged pants now too 😉 )

      1. I think you need to! Maybe you should try the peppermint wide leg pants pattern. It’s free so if you don’t like it you haven’t wasted money.

  5. Did you visit the Chanel exhibition in The Hague in 2014? So inspiring! I loved seeing the examples of how Chanel put the emphasis on freedom of movement and in fitting sessions always checked whether her clients would be able to drive a car in her designs. I hope you’ll find the time to make a quilted jacket soon. So worth the extra effort and 80+ hours of mostly hand sewing. Nothing beats the feeling of a soft couture cardigan!

    1. I’ve been to exhibition in The Hague. I always try to go to designers exhibitions as much as I can. Good fitted clothes are so important and more relaxing to wear then clothes you can barely move in. My knowledge of tailoring skills are slowly growing and so now and then I try a few of them on a toile. So on one fine day my quilted version of a Chanel jacket will be ready to show and wear.

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