MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: There is a beautiful silver silk evening dress – one with a low back and embroidered with sequins – in the fourth part of the Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion manifesto exhibition, currently on display at the National Gallery Of Victoria. Made in 1926, this model was worn by young American actress Ina Claire, an influential Chanel client, who also wore a version of this dress in the May 1926 edition of US Vogue (it was imported by the Fifth Avenue store Henri Bendel in New York).
Sparkling beading was a hallmark of Chanel evening wear in the 1920s and 1930s, a period characterized by exquisite dresses, many of which showed embellishment techniques associated with haute couture (read: bead and feather work).
“At the end of the 1920s, Gabrielle Chanel had a huge workforce,” explains Danielle Whitfield, fashion and textile curator at NGV. “This included the seamstresses inside her workshop, but it also included the women who would do the embroidery – and inside of that, the people who did the beading, sequins, and threadwork.”
“By browsing the exhibition, we discover all these technical aspects that make up sewing. Even when you look at the panels and the construction of a garment, it’s not easy, ”she continues. “It’s a streamlined line and that’s because Chanel had this quest for streamlined elegance, but the actual construction of the clothes involves all of these wonderful techniques.”
As you admire the pieces, admire the inset panels, especially in the elegant and romantic lace dresses. “You have these large panels which allow a certain transparency which consists in revealing the body. It’s incredibly complex, ”says Whitfield. “They use techniques like incorporating crinoline under the fabric so you get those nice, soft pleats and volume that surround the body, rather than hanging limply from the hip line.”
There are feathered evening capes, beaded dance dresses, and layered fringe clothing. (Editor’s note: Stop to marvel at the ruby silk velvet evening cape, lined and subtly trimmed with lustrous marabou feathers, and made between 1924 and 1926. Chanel marked her love of color by presenting a red garment in each of his collections from the 1920s, generally the fifth work to be published).
“Only by looking closely can one understand the level of detail of the flowers and feathers applied,” says Whitfield.
Indeed, with more than 250 pieces, you have to experience this exhibition twice, to really see it once.
“We have a suite of very beautiful pale apricot pink dresses from the 1930s that are exclusive to Melbourne,” notes Whitfield. “We worked with private collectors in New York to bring in some key works from the first part of Chanel’s career: design. This is a very good example of a play that did not appear in Paris.
Find out how these clothes were purchased and stored before arriving in Australia in Part Three.
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion manifesto is the first retrospective exhibition devoted to the work of Gabrielle Chanel in Australia after its creation at the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris in 2020. On display at the National Gallery of Victoria until April 25, 2022. tickets, see here.
Videographer: Harry Glassborow
Fashion Director: Kim Payne
Artistic Director: Kimberlee Kessler
Editorial Director: Jessica Bailey
Hairdresser and makeup artist: Julie Provis / Hart and Co
Model: Victoria Lee / Priscillas
Thanks to CHANEL
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