The V&A is hosting a new exhibition exploring the 60-year career of French fashion designer Coco Chanel. In addition to her fashionable contribution to women’s wardrobe, it also contains documents that claim she joined the French resistance in 1943.
A major exhibition about Coco Chanel opened in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The first British installation dedicated to this French fashion designer, whose full name was Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, were prepared in the Museum of Fashion and History of Fashion Palais Galliera in Paris. Exhibition titled Gabrielle Chanel. A fashion manifesto, it follows the designer throughout her life – from 1910, when she first opened her craft in the French capital, to her last collection in 1971. About 200 garments are presented.
“It is a pillar of western fashion, fascinating woman,” said the curator of contemporary textiles and fashion at the V&A museum Oriole Cullen adding that her name is still present in modern fashion. Chanel, who was born in poverty and grew up in a monastery in 1883, transformed women’s fashion and presented comfortable, elegant, but simple clothes in which women could move without problems.
One of the earliest garments on display is a navy blouse from 1916, made from a fine silk jersey, which until then was used to make underwear and stockings. The collar was inspired by fishermen’s clothing. In the decade that followed, Chanel established herself as the world’s top fashion designer, and her little black dress remains a timeless classic. In 1926, the American magazine Vogue described it as “the dress the whole world will wear”.
Among the fans of her Chanel No.5 perfume, which was launched in 1921, were film actresses Marilyn Monroe and deceased Queen Elizabeth II, who received a bottle as a birthday present in 1955. Today, it remains one of the best-selling fragrances in the world.
Her code name was Westminster
She socialized with the British aristocracy, and in the 1920s and 1930s she was photographed at To Winston Churchill, to the future the British wartime politician, and at the famous horse races in Ascot. During the Second World War, she closed her shop on rue Cambon in the center of Paris, a stone’s throw from the hotel The Ritz, where she lived. At the age of 57, she fell in love with the attaché of the German embassy Hans Gunther von Dincklagewhich is also touched upon by the exhibition.
In July 1941, Chanel was designated a “trustworthy source” by the Nazi authorities, although it is unclear whether she was aware of this fact. She was given the code name Westminster and the identification number F7124. In December 1943, the Nazis wanted to use her connections in England to get in touch with Churchill.
Her links to the enemy are well known, but an exhibition at the V&A includes two new documents which claim she joined the French Resistance in January 1943. A document dated and signed from Paris in 1948 identifies her as an occasional agent, while another shows her membership in the Resistance from 1 January 1943 to April 1944.
Chanel went to Switzerland after the war and returned in 1954 at the age of 71 with her tweed suit, which Vogue called the most beautiful uniform in the world. There are 54 of them on display at the exhibition in shades of beige, gray and pink. She died in 1971 aged 87, leaving an indelible mark on fashion with her trademark tweed dresses and quilted bags.