What happened: Opening during London Fashion Week, the Victoria & Albert Museum is making noise with its latest showstopper exhibition, “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto.” The exhibit, which has taken place in Paris and Tokyo, showcases 200 iconic looks from the iconic founding designer, with some heritage pieces on display over a 100 years old.
The exhibition delves deeper than just showcasing Coco Chanel’s pioneering fashion prowess, as her life was not solely defined by luxury and elegance. The exhibition provides a candid glimpse into that life, highlighting the controversies she was involved in, particularly during the tumultuous times of World War II. Visitors are taken on a journey through Chanel’s six-decade-long fashion odyssey, from her early beginnings to her rise as a fashion icon.
Jing Take: London’s love affair with Chanel isn’t just a casual museum fling. The brand’s relationship with Britain runs deep. The designer was an unabashed Anglophile, drawing inspiration from British sports and classic tweeds and jerseys.
Further cementing that relationship is the upcoming launch of Chanel’s expanded headquarters in London’s exclusive Berkeley Square: an 11-story, 86,000 square-foot fashion fortress.
It’s therefore somewhat surprising that this is the first UK exhibition dedicated to the French powerhouse couturier. The brand’s cultural agenda, led by its head of global art and culture Yana Peel, has grown and evolved in recent years.
Perhaps fashion’s eagerness to embrace and borrow from culture, design and arts at large, along with the passing of the maison’s creative figurehead Karl Lagerfeld and its instalment of Virginie Viard (who while a formidable designer, lacks her predecessor’s star power), has pushed Chanel’s to put its legacy forefront when it comes to marketing the brand.
As one of Chinese fashionistas’ favorite luxury houses, this exhibition should draw lots of attention from the Chinese diaspora in the UK as well as visiting tourists.
This November will see the brand do its first runway show in Shenzhen (a city that boasts more billionaires than Singapore). “As China’s capital of design, innovation, and high technology, this destination, open to the world, creation, and the future, [Shezhen] is the latest of many stopovers made by Chanel cruise collection,” the brand said in a release.
At the exhibition, visitors can see Coco Chanel’s hallmark colors of ivory, gold, fiery reds, and classic blacks, as well as exhibits relating to the pioneering launch of Chanel’s perfume, skincare, and makeup lines in the roaring 1920s, when the designer was a step ahead, setting trends and breaking the mold. The show makes clear that Coco Chanel’s daring spirit is still the brand’s backbone.
And while the brand, like many others, has been caught up in the debate about the inflation of luxury product prices in recent years, it remains one of the few in the world that produces highly auctionable collectables (depending on the item and condition).
A positive response to the V&A’s exhibition will likely help ensure Chanel’s allure doesn’t fade anytime soon.
In its latest earnings report, Chanel noted that the APAC region was its largest revenue contributor last year. The maison’s revenue from Asia surged 14.3 percent year on year to $8.65 billion, almost twice the size of Europe’s contribution. This begs the question, when will the exhibition arrive in China?
Additional reporting by Mia Liang
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.