Chanel Creations: Fashion for the Wealthy
At the earlly of 1920’s Chanel’ s designs were for the leisured rich, the new international set who traveled Europe and the United States in a restless search for seasonal diversions; and the irony of her fashions was that she gave the richest women in the world a look that was indistinguishable from that of a shop girl or office worker.
Dressed in this ultra-chic “poor look” – in a sirnple black dress either with a demure white Peter Pan collar, or, more likely, completely unadomed – the society women who affected it paid everything for a fashion that looked like nothing and reduced women’ s dress to a minimalist uniform of understatement. Chanel even designed necklaces of uncut diamonds and emeralds that looked as though they were made of common glass.
This, then, was an inversion of values in the so-called democratic century. Dress was no longer a matter of direct display; instead, fashion adopted the language of the streets and of the common man (man, not woman, for both sexes). Chanel flung a trenchcoat around her shoulders and it became the latest thing; jersey, corduroy and tweed, once used to make only workmen’s or country clothes, were transformed into high fashion. The concept of casual wear was born.
By this time high fashion was an international movement. Paul Poiret had already toured the United States, where he had been horrified to find his exclusive designs pirated everywhere. By 1930 Seventh Avenue (the New York City garment district) was adapting Chanel’s designs for the mass market – and their sirnpIicity meant that they were highly suitable for mass production.
In the following year Chanel was invited to Hollywood by Sam Goldwyn. The “poor girI” look that Chanel had made her own was similar to that popularized by Louise Brooks on the screen, where she played ordinary city girls, “good sorts” and tomboys. Goldwyn invited Chanel to dress his stars because she was the most prestigious of all dress designers, but as it turned out her designs were too understated for Hollywood. After designing Gloria Swanson’ s wardrobe for Tonight or Neuer (1931) she retumed to Paris, unenthralled by the celluloid capital, which in tum had no use for her Iittle-or-nothing clothes.