In the early 1920s, Coco Chanel accidentally fell asleep in the sun while on holiday in the French Riviera.
We’ve all done it. But when we do it, it results in a little light lobstering and a tub of alo vera. When she did it, she changed Western attitudes to the suntan on its head. Before her, being tanned meant you were poor (because only poors work outside). After her, being tanned because a status symbol. Such was her extraordinarily glamorous appeal that she changed fashions by accident in ways we still follow to this day, a century later. And that’s not to mention the things she did, you know, on purpose – like the little black dress. Or Chanel No.5. Or the fact that women don’t wear corsets anymore.
So it’s almost odd that there hasn’t been an exhibition about her life at any major UK museum until now.
Well, that all changes this September with the V&A’s latest large-scale exhibition. The show, named Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, is based on a similar exhibition that’s been wowing Parisians at the Fashion Museum over there. The V&A intend to expand on that show’s scope, covering Coco’s life from the first boutique she opened in 1910, to the last collection she unveiled in 1971. All told, there’ll be over 180 designs, plus accessories, hats, perfumes, and items of jewellery on show in eight themed sections, that each cover an aspect of her work.
And as a bonus? We’ll also see some of Chanel’s British inspirations, from her adoption of tweed & other UK textiles, to the outfits she created for British model Anne Gunning (who later became later Lady Nutting).
Looks like even Coco liked to cross the Channel every once in a while.
NOTE: Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is set to open on September 16th. Tickets cost £24. You can find out more at the V&A’s site right here.
V&A Museum | Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, SW7 2RL
Looking for something slightly quirkier? Take a look at our guide to Unusual Museums in London