‘Vogue on: Coco Chanel’ is one of four in the new series of books which look at the history of influential designers in western culture. It tells the story of Chanel and her revolutionary fashion designs, beautifully illustrated with examples of her work. Vogue demonstrates why it has earned its reputation as the ‘fashion bible,’ giving an exclusive insight into the meanings and history behind her creations.
Vogue on: Coco Chanel by Bronwyn Cosgrave
Chanel was the first designer to introduce the suit for women, creating the innovative androgynous look. Bronwyn Cosgrave writes: “Chanel developed the famous collarless jacket costume by combining the restricted silhouette with sophisticated cardigans and skirts.”1 This style is still popular today, being ideal for the modern woman. The beautiful images showcase these stunning designs, bringing the reader into the context of how these fashions were created.
The iconic suit and the little black dress by Coco Chanel
The little black dress
The little black dress is undoubtedly one of Chanel’s greatest innovations, in which Vogue on: Coco Chanel focuses on in great detail. Cosgrave writes: “the black dress from Chanel is considered revolutionary in that it emancipates, yet looks sexy.”2 The little black dress set women free from male domination in fashion, yet still allowed them to express their femininity. Almost 100 years on and the little black dress is still a wardrobe stable for every woman.
1. Bronwyn Cosgrave, ‘Vogue on: Coco Chanel,’ pp. 76, Quadrille Publishing Ltd, 2012
2. Bronwyn Cosgrave, ‘Vogue on: Coco Chanel,’ pp. 73, Quadrille Publishing Ltd, 2012
Labelling and subcultures
Fashion has grown central to shaping our identity in contemporary culture. However, this has created an opportunity for attaching labels both to ourselves and others more freely. The existence of subcultures has made this type of stereotyping easier because of the strong fashion associations within these groups. The history of subcultures represents an opposition of conventional values, so why has it leaked into the mainstream? Like vintage fashion, subcultural fashion is now seen as a unique way of expressing yourself.
Hippy fashion from ASOS
What it really means to be part of a subculture
Joanne Denny, aged 50 became part of the hippie subculture 30 years ago and she hasn’t looked back since. For Joanne, being part of a subculture allows her to immerse herself into another world where her values and beliefs are accepted. When asked what being a hippy is all about Joanne simply replied: “it’s all about being a free spirit.” The traditional hippy motto “peace and love” is certainly something that Joanne embraces, being at the centre of her daily life.
True Hippy Joanne Denny
Fashion is fundamental in expressing your belonging within a subculture. Joanne embraces traditional hippy fashion, with a wardrobe bursting with colour. Tie-dye, flares and florals all make up her look, which all give connotations of the freedom of the hippie subculture. Her favourite is a coloured cardigan, “I’ve had this for years and it holds many good memories. It’s a good summary of myself – bright and bold!” she laughs.
The desirability of vintage fashion has grown significantly in western culture. But what is the real meaning behind vintage history? Is it just another trend that’s hit the mainstream? Vintage shop owner Rachael Griffiths shares her view.
Interviewee and owner of It’s Vintage Darling: Rachael Griffiths
What is vintage fashion?
Vintage fashion refers to garments that originate from previous eras. The allure of vintage dress today is that it makes room for creativity and individuality within fashion. Rachael explains: “vintage is one of a kind, rare and original, vintage is about a certain era and should make you feel part of that moment in time, it should make you feel special and for me vintage is a way of expressing yourself and being unique.”
What is the most inspiring vintage era?
The 1950s seems to hold a special place is most vintage lovers’ hearts. Rachael explains: “I do love the 1950s it’s so glamorous, the silhouette is probably the most iconic too, the 50s was a time where fabric became a celebration, and the clothes are so well made.” An interesting change in vintage history is to consider how traditional feminine tastes of the 50s were replaced by a more masculine style in the 60s, appearing simultaneously alongside feminist movements.
1950s pastel lavender prom dress with layers of tulle lace
Is it now just mainstream?
The popularity of vintage amongst celebrities such as Kate Moss and Julia Roberts suggests that vintage is slipping into the mainstream. However, Rachael explains why true vintage will never lose its meaning: “the term ‘vintage’ is now very commercialised, but the actual original vintage pieces I feel are still very special and could never be commercialised because they are so unique, special and one of a kind.”
Interviewee: Rachel Griffiths from It’s Vintage Darling
Dressing in a masculine style has become a much loved fashion trend for women in today’s culture. The Spring/Summer 2013 London Fashion Week showcased the latest androgynous trends, flooding the catwalk with trench coats, collared shirts and suits. However, this trend is not just another new innovation in the fashion world. It is one the carries a fascinating history, with roots leading back to early feminism.
Androgynous fashion from ASOS’ recent collection
Androgyny and feminism
The popularity of androgynous style has appeared simultaneously alongside women’s liberation movements. This has created an interesting argument that dressing like a man is a means of women achieving male status, an idea strongly suggested by feminist Betty Friedan. Freidan wrote extensively on ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ arguing that women felt trapped in their oppressed feminine identity. Women’s desire for equality with men led them to adopt an androgynous style, in which they felt satisfied their desire for male status. “The feminists had only one model, one image, one vision, of a full and free human being: man.”1
The power of fashion
Androgynous style today is still very much a feminist statement. It acts as a historical record of the on-going success of feminist movements which begun almost a century ago. Women’s ability to break gender boundaries in dress continue to give connotations of their growing power and success. So as well as the right to vote, you know have feminism to thank for that gorgeous blazer sitting in your wardrobe.
Myself wearing an androgynous black blazer
1. Betty Freidan, ‘The Feminine Mystique’, pp. 73, Penguin Books, 1963