The Mademoiselle Spirit

Text by Charmaine Poh
Images courtesy of Chanel

In the beginning was the suit, a creation that Gabrielle Chanel introduced in an attempt to veer women’s fashion away from the restrictive cinched waist styles of the era. “I designed the Chanel suit for women who move,” Gabrielle Chanel is reported to have said.

At a time when women’s fashion was restricted to certain notions of femininity, Chanel’s ideas were revolutionary. Defying the prevailing trends of her time, she wore menswear inspired shirts and trousers, and in doing so redefined what elegance could look like in the 20th century woman.

When Karl Lagerfeld joined Chanel house, he re-interpreted what the suit could mean, separating the jacket from the suit and adding bold colors, fabrics and tweeds. In 1985, he teamed the jacket with a pair of jeans and a striped sailor top. In his Spring/Summer 1992 collection, he presented it in terry cloth. In his Fall/Winter 1994 collection, he designed a faux-fur jacket with Chanel’s signature braiding.

The mademoiselle spirit chanel little black dress

Its timelessness is evidenced in the tribute paid to it at the Spring/Summer 2008 Haute Couture show: a giant 20-metre monument to Chanel’s jacket took centrestage on the catwalk, towering over the variations that were worn by the models below. Such re-inventions and nods to the iconic jacket have been consistent fixtures during his years at Chanel, and remain an important reference point for the brand.

This November, Chanel is bringing its international Little Black Jacket exhibition to Singapore. A collaboration with former French Vogue editor, Carine Roitfeld, Karl Lagerfeld’s book is titled The Little Black Jacket: Chanel’s Classic Revisited, and features over 100 black and white photographs of both men and women dressed in the elegant black tweed. The images were shot by Lagerfeld himself, and each speaks to the personalities captured, from Alexa Chung to Keira Knightley to Vanessa Paradis, and even to Kanye West. Each portrait is a colourful re-interpretation of the jacket, an homage both to the jacket’s versatility as well as Chanel’s muses, past and present.

The mademoiselle spirit chanel little black dress

Carine shares her views on the classic Chanel icon and its spirit of longevity.

Everyone at the shoot made the jacket their own. It’s like a pair of jeans, right?

It’s like jeans or a t-shirt; it’s something that belongs to everyone.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Karl and I came up with the idea at the beginning of 2011.

Were there no limits to your creativity?

Totally unlimited—look, we cut up the Chanel jacket, we did it all. We made it short-sleeved, sleeveless, turned it inside out. Ultimately it’s a very wearable garment because you can do a lot with it. It can work as sportswear when paired with jeans, or go with an evening gown, or be worn by a male ballet dancer. This jacket suits everyone. It’s an incredible item of clothing. It’s like a very elegant version of the denim jacket.

The mademoiselle spirit chanel little black dress

Why do you think this jacket transcends the eras so successfully?

Isn’t that Mademoiselle Chanel’s secret? Honestly? It works. Everybody wants one. We did a white version at one point; it looked fabulous in white too. I don’t know. There are secrets like that. Some things will just always work very, very well, it’s the Coco spirit.

Read more in The U Press N˚4 (Singapore edition).