Half a century ago, Coco Chanel debuted the black and white flower camellia. Its elegant ability to accessorize the simple, yet chic Chanel-look had people rushing to buy the timeless accessory. On a brief walk around the mall this summer, I couldn’t help but notice bold floral accessories flashing in the windows of stores like J. Crew and Anthropologie. Who would think 50 years later, Chanel’s sophisticated, feminine design aesthetic would still influence the fashions Americans wear today?
Classic Chanel pieces are by definition feminine, chic and simple. Some of these pieces include the “Little Black Dress,” a buttoned overcoat, and a ribboned strand of pearls. Chanel was known to accentuate the woman in the clothes, rather than the clothes on the woman. On my walk around the mall, I was taken aback when I discovered that almost every store carried a simplistic flower headband alongside a beautiful faux strand of pearls. It was like déjà vu. It’s so interesting that years later, these pieces never go out of style.
A few years ago, I went over to visit my grandmother- a notorious collector of various designers with a penchant for Chanel’s designer collection. I watched her clean out her priceless vault of a closet, pulling out old pieces of boucle fabric (a Chanel specialty) and conservative button-up jackets. I remember looking at some of these garments and forwarding picture messages to my friends screaming the word “PUKE” in all caps. The fact that it seemed old and something my grandmother would wear could not be less appealing to me at the tender age of 13. But what I remember most from this visit was the sage fashion advice she chose to impart to what must have appeared to her to be her ungrateful pre-teen granddaughter: “Chanel is timeless;” and that I may “get lucky” should she choose to hand down some of her favorites.
And here I am, two years later, supporting my grandmother – the one who hikes her pants a whole six inches above her waistline. I soon discovered that Chanel istimeless. It’s timeless because of such sophistication in its famous soft, feminine glow. Ruffles, layers, button-ups, lace and pearls. Sound familiar? These pieces are everywhere you turn! Beautiful, glass-like pearl chain necklaces dominated the racks at J. Crew, along with Chanel’s signature ruffle layered top and front pocket cashmere cardigan. It was almost like Coco Chanel had been born again.
Although Chanel is known for its feminine look, changes were made when Karl Lagerfeld took control of the brand. He took the classic pieces and added a much edgier approach, which in turn, became part of what Chanel and other manufactures are influenced by today. Urban Outfitters, for instance, uses an edgy approach to market their clothes, a business in which I believe was modeled off Chanel. Biker-chic handbags in a quilted appearance were being manufactured with the famous Chanel logo. Chanel practically made logos what they are today. Juicy Couture even “borrowed” a lot of Chanel’s powerful marketing techniques; Notice that in all their ads, red lipstick and an exaggerated hat is included in nearly every picture. Even the colored ball gowns in the ads are reminiscent of Chanel’s early advertising: feminine and elegant French sophistication.
So next time you take a stroll through the mall or flip through the newest issue of Vogue, take a moment to admire the beauty of vintage and its timeless appeal. Remember not to get turned off (like myself two years ago) by the fact that it’s “old” and not hip. Because really, what did I know when I was 13? That Hollister had such breathtakingly original clothing ideas (which they totally rip off Abercrombie, but that’s a whole different story)? What I understand today is that Chanel has influenced most clothing companies and has created an artful approach to the way we wear clothes. Next time you go rummaging through your grandmother’s closet, don’t be afraid. There’s no dusty dresser or even dentures for that matter. In fact, you’ll be surprised by all the hidden treasures vintage brings you.