Today I spent two hours in the library reading (or rather, worshipping) a coffee table book of Chanel clothing, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Almost all of it was Coco Chanel's actual designs, some from Lagerfeld. All of them, gorgeous. The Chanel label is so well known, to the point of being a cultural cliche. ''Oh, it;s very Chanel esque'' some might say of any black dress, even if it looks nothing like a Chanel piece. The simple double-C symbol of the house is so iconic. Some even have it tattooed on their bodies. But what actually makes Chanel so wonderful? Is the price and popularity just consumarist hype? In short, is that jacket really worth $700? My answer, controversially, is yes.
The average outfit is made in a sweat shop. One of the biggest building collapses ever happened in a Bangladeshi garment factory, which produced clothing for popular brands like Gap and H&M (figures one of the worst brands, both in how it's made and designed, would be made in such cruel and inconsiderate conditions). Workers are considered animals in these factories. People who try to start unions for these workers have been killed by their own government.
On the other hand, the Chanel garment is made in either France (couture) or Italy (ready to wear). Clothing is hand sewn and in the case of couture, fitted to the buyers exact measurements. Aside from the good of the consumer, the employees are actually well paid and trained sewers. When the Barrie's wool factory in Scotland was about to close, Chanel purchased the factory and saved over 200 jobs. Aside from sounding like a Mitt Romney campaign promo, I really think high quality clothing like Chanel is worth the effort. I also believe that people (like myself) deserve to have access to well made and ethical clothing, without paying a high school tuition for it. Cheaper priced brands should train their workers, treat the clothing like an actual craft, and actually pay the workers. Fashion is art, and it deserves to be treated as so. And in order for art to be, well, art, it must be made in a beautiful way that gives back to the world.
Chanel, specifically, revolutionized fashion. Many times the story of saving women from corsets has been told, so I'll skip that. Chanel clothing melds the practical with the beautiful. Tiny things like a simple chain at the bottom of a jacket help it to drape properly. A garments true beauty by itself is shown without piles of unnecessary buttons. Certain necklaces, such as her Constellation necklace, were customizable. She popularized displaying jewelry on head mannequins and fake arms, to give an idea of how a piece was worn. Chanel No.5, for gosh sakes! Instead of simply putting one scent in, she had numerous.
This beautiful fashion house has so many fun little secrets, also. The topper of Chanel No.5's bottle is modeled after the Place Vendome in France. The reason for the perfume's name is because it was the fifth sample Ernest Beau presented to her. Byzantine inspired jewelry from her collections were references to the cross mosaics on the ground in front of Coco's childhood church. Camellias, her favorite flower, is shown in almost every Chanel collection. Lastly, her prized Japanese room panels inspired many of her designs, my favorite being her day robe outfits.
In short: Scatter my ashes at 31 rue Cambon.