Inside Chanel’s “The Little Black Jacket” Exhibition


“Every designer dreams of inventing the Chanel jacket,” Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld told Gotham Magazine, speaking of the infamous fashion staple that has been a consistent favorite for generations and has inspired countless copies over the years. “It’s up there with jeans or the T-shirt; it is gender neutral—that is to say, it can be womenswear or menswear,” he says.

Because of its longevity, Chanel, under the direction of Lagerfeld and former Vogue Paris editor Carine Roitfeld, conceived “The Little Black Jacket” exhibition featuring more than 100 black-and-white photographs of figures including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kanye West, Yoko Ono and Tilda Swinton wearing Chanel jackets that were made specifically for the photos. The photos will also be made into a book to be released later this summer.

The idea came to the duo more than a year ago when Roitfeld was having a custom Chanel black jacket made for her. 

Designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel first conceived of her infamous black jacket in 1916 as she set to re-imagine the way women should dress.

"Fashion has become a joke," she said. "The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape."

In 1936 Chanel began using tweed to create her jackets, lining them in fur to up their status. Following Chanel’s death in 1971, the Chanel jacket went out of vogue, but returned to favor by the 1980s. In the early 90s stars like Gwyneth Paltrow modernized the Chanel jacket by wearing it with jeans.

This exhibition is all about showing the little black jacket’s versatility.

Dakota Fanning—with a flower garland in her hair and a distinct bohemian vibe—is photographed in a black jacket. Model Freja Beha Erichsen is styled in her black jacket to look like a nun. Roitfeld’s photo is in direct homage to Coco Chanel herself.

The photographs, taken by Lagerfeld, were snapped over the span of a year in New York City, Paris and the south of France. Having just landed in New York City, the exhibit will travel to several other cities over the course of the year.

The exhibit is worth a visit for fashion lovers and celebrity watchers. Want your own Chanel little black jacket? These days they run several thousand dollars each, so this exhibit might be as close as you can get.

“The Little Black Jacket” runs through June 15 at 18 Wooster St.

“The Little Black Jacket: Chanel’s Classic Revisited,” published by Steidl ($98), is out August 15.

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