If you’re a top-notch designer, your highest hope is to create a fashion item that will not only revolutionize the field of fashion, but also create a long-lasting legacy. Helmut Lang created designer denim, the late André Courrèges gave us the go-go boot, and Christian Dior invented the “New Look” silhouette. But there is one designer whose legacy is so expansive, so impressive, and so forward-thinking that she completely turned fashion on its head.
That designer in question is, of course, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, whose birthday it would’ve been today. Her contributions to the fashion industry are legion and, in remembering her legacy, we’d be remiss not to mention the four things she designed that changed fashion forever.
Chances are high that you own at least one – if not dozens – of items made from jersey, but it was Coco Chanel who first saw the potential in this practical, comfortable fabric. She was the first to refuse the shackles of restrictive corsetry and searched for new, wearable materials that would fit the more masculine silhouette she is known for pioneering.
“I make fashion that women can live in, breathe in, feel comfortable in, and look younger in,” she famously said. Prior to her use of jersey, the material was used to make men’s underwear.
Trousers for Women
It’s practically absurd to think that there was once an era of history when the sight of a woman wearing trousers would shock and outrage the public, but that is exactly the effect it had on society when they were first introduced by none other than Gabrielle Chanel. As a consummate pioneer, she defied social norms, insisting on clothes that women could live in. In fact, she was the first to begin borrowing her boyfriend’s trousers and started wearing them as a fashion statement.
The designer, who was always interested in outdoor activities like horseback riding, noticed that women wore cumbersome skirts while attempting to ride side-saddle. Chanel took this issue and ran with it, first by designing riding trousers for women and then by evolving the design to include a variety that could be worn during the day or evening.
The Little Black Dress
Prior to Coco Chanel’s invention of the Little Black Dress – a chic black sheath dress that was instantly hailed as Chanel’s “Ford moment” – black dresses were worn exclusively for the act of mourning. In creating the now-iconic LBD, Chanel’s purpose was simple: she wanted to create an effortlessly wearable frock that all women could look stylish in. Mission accomplished.
Suits for Women
One of the magic ingredients in Mademoiselle Chanel’s many design concoctions was World War I. Sound strange? Hear us out. Because thousands of men went to fight in the war, women were being forced to take their place in the workforce. Fashion is a reflection of society, and Chanel happened to be the fastest in spotting the need to develop practical and chic women’s clothing that could keep up with the new demands placed on their lives as a result of the war.
One of her most significant contributions to the world of fashion was suiting for women. She was the first to create women’s suits, using knit material so that they would be lightweight, flexible, and flattering. Her suits are known for their impeccable fit, collarless necklines, gold braids, metallic buttons, fitted sleeves, and polished silhouette.