Chanel No. 5, a love story

The perfume that launched a thousand ad campaigns? Perhaps, but Chanel No. 5 has been in continuous production since its 1921 launch, and the company estimates that somewhere in the world, a bottle is sold every 55 seconds.

It was the Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, who introduced Coco to the perfumer Ernest Beaux in 1920 on a trip to Cannes, where the couple visited his laboratory. Originally intended as a Christmas present to her best clients and limited to 100 flacons, Chanel understood the marketability of exclusivity. The hard-to-find scent soon became the most coveted perfume for her devotees, and bottles poured off the production line.

The bottle’s shape was a departure from the norm, as most perfumes of the time were packaged in ornately decorative bottles shaped as birds, or flowers. Chanel’s art deco minimalism has never been changed, and it is purported that the flacon’s origination was inspired by a men’s toiletry item belonging to Chanel’s only love, Arthur “Boy” Capel.

Why the 5? Some say it was the 5th concoction during testing that ended up being the right combination of scents for Chanel’s taste. Others insist Chanel herself chose 5 because it was her lucky number — she staged her fashion shows on the 5th day of the 5th month.

The scent — a mix of jasmine, May rose, ylang ylang, iris, sandalwood and vetiver — remains one of the most recognizable in the world. Perhaps the most famous Chanel No. 5 quote ever was uttered by the legendary Marilyn Monroe. When asked what she wore to bed, her response was, “Five drops of Chanel No. 5.” And it was Coco herself who said a woman should wear her perfume “wherever she wishes to be kissed.”

(This blog entry is dedicated to my first bottle of Chanel No. 5, received last week, and my instaneous infatuation for it).

Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 7:23 am  Comments (2)  
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House of Chloe

In 1952, Jacque Lenoir and Gaby Aghion opened the house of Chloe with a vision of deluxe, ready-to-wear designs that would epitomize modern femininity. Five years after the introduction of Dior’s “New Look,” the timing was ideal for a new vision in women’s fashion, and while feminine designs have always been the company’s bon mot, the designers for the house have changed the expression of their company’s vision extensively over the past five decades.

Perhaps their most notable designer, Karl Lagerfeld, took Chloe in new directions and popularized the line tremendously during his tenure. In the early 70’s, having become the chief designer, Lagerfeld’s “hippie couture” vision of slip dresses, flowy blouses and long skirts brought customers flocking. Lagerfeld left in 1983, but returned in 1992, and his resurgence of hippie couture fit perfectly with the decade’s resurgence in 60’s nostalgia. Using prints that harkened to the bygone era, Lagerfeld’s vision introduced Chloe to a new generation of fashionistas.

Upon Lagerfeld’s departure in 1997, Stella McCartney took the position of lead designer. Her distinctly romantic touches such as using antique lace and glass buttons, while still maintaining the sharper lines and modern tailoring consumers craved, brought Chloe back to the hearts (and into the closets) of many.

Chloe’s vision was taken into an entirely new evolution of design with the appointment of Paulo Melim Andersson as creative designer in 2006. Andersson describes the new Chloe girl as “angry, but funny-angry.” Whether his vision of Chloe will continue to impress consumers remains to be seen.

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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Galliano, Galliano, Galliano

I’ve got a crush, and I’ve got it bad.

John Galliano… Gall-i-ahhhh-no. Here he is, channeling his inner Fabio.

 And he’s so beautiful.

 My fashion crush began with the Rachel Zoe episode where Rach and Brad go to Paris. The John Galliano fashion show, remember it? With the snow, and the models emerging from the light tunnel created with laser lights?

 And those wicked shoes?  

 (Which he’s kinda known for).

Ok, here’s my attempt to be studious and informative: He was born in Gibraltar in 1960, his father is Spanish, but he moved to London and is considered a British designer. He’s noted for his avant garde designs which translate into street-saavy pieces to be worn by normal people too. He’s been awarded all kinds of accolades from the industry.

 He’s been criticized for his designs being too antiquated, but I love his mix of history and modernity.

In 1995, he was lead designer at Givenchy. And in ’97, when Dior was bought by LVMH, Bernard Arnault offered Galliano the House of Dior, giving the phrase “Dior’s New Look” an entirely new meaning.

 He considers Charlize Theron as his muse. (But that’s only because he’s never met me).

 History meets absurdity, meets luxury, meets theatricality. Love love love!

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 10:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Chanel and the Little Black Dress

The Little Black Dress (or “LBD”) has become a staple within the wardrobes of women worldwide. Yet, few know it was the legendary designer Coco Chanel who championed the LBD movement, and fewer still can agree on Mademoiselle Chanel’s motivation for its creation.

The color black had come in and out of fashion by the turn of the 20th century, although it was still seen primarily as a color of mourning. Chanel was quite aware of this tradition, and two separate stories tie these notions together.

 The first story concerns Paul Poiret, Chanel’s primary rival in Parisian fashion design at the time. Seeing Poiret’s collection featuring riotous colors, Chanel disdained his garish displays and, to set her work apart from her competitor, used black instead. By including superior textiles and relaxed silhouettes, Coco remade the image of the woman who wore the black dress, and in keeping with the Roaring 20s, she continued to challenge fashion’s mores by raising hemlines and removing excess layers to create freer and more revealing looks. By Chanel’s vision, a woman in an LBD was independent, and made her own rules.

 By 1928, Paul Poiret passed Chanel on the street one day, wearing all black, and asked who she was in mourning for. With her usual acerbic wit, Chanel answered, “For you, Monsieur.”

 But, this tale might contain a less obvious underlying sense of truth. In 1919, Boy Capel, whom Chanel called the love of her life, died suddenly in a car accident. The LBD, she has purportedly said, was her tremendous grief spilling over into her other greatest love, her work. “I will make the world mourn for you,” she vowed to her lost love, and proceeded to dress women in black, in perpetuity.

 But, like everything with Coco, there are always more stories. Ever the pragmatic designer, Chanel argued that a simple black dress not only hid stains, but was multi-functional, easily transitioning from daytime wear to evening attire, all by changing one’s accessories.  Add a jacket for daytime, and swap the jacket for long gloves and a luxurious wrap, and a lady could be ready for the opera, all with minimal effort and still creating maximum effect. 

One more tale lingers in the legends of the LBD’s origins… Chanel was raised by nuns before becoming a seamstress in her youth, and some claim Chanel’s motivation for using black as a uniform harkens to her subconscious desire to return to her youth, and the caretakers she once knew.

Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 7:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Who is Jimmy Choo?

 Jimmy Choo’s journey from Malaysian shoe maker to founder of a multi-million dollar accessories company is inspiring, no doubt about it.

 In 1961, Choo was born into a family of shoemakers, and describes his ethnicity as part Malaysian, Chinese and Hakka. By 1986, Choo had graduated from Cordwainers Technical College in London, and set up his own workshop in an old hospital building in East London.

 After an impressive, 8-page layout featuring Choo’s shoes in Vogue magazine, his sales grew exponentially until his marketability sky-rocketed when Diana, Princess of Wales began wearing his shoes from 1990 onwards (as pictured).

 In 1996, he co-founded Jimmy Choo Ltd. with British Vogue accessories editor Tamara Mellon, but five years later Choo sold her his 50% stake in the company for £10 million. More recently he has focused his efforts on the exclusive Jimmy Choo Couture line produced under license from Jimmy Choo Ltd.

 The Jimmy Choo London line, also known as Jimmy Choo Ready-To-Wear or, simply, Jimmy Choo, has flourished under the executive guidance of Tamara Mellon, who expanded the ready-to-wear line to include accessories such as handbags to delight fashionistas around the globe.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 7:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chanel’s classic flap handbag, a short history

 For Chanel devotees, there is one handbag that outshines them all… the flap. The iconic handbag was first issued in February 1955, and is often referred to as the 255 or 2.55 as a result.

 Every design element of the original had a purpose behind its inclusion — the lining’s color represented the convent’s uniforms, where Coco spent part of her youth; the chains of the shoulder straps represent the waist chain belts which the nuns kept their keys upon; the leather’s quilting references racetrack boys’ quilted uniforms, and her love of horse racing; she hid love letters in the zippered, interior compartment inside the bag’s outer flap; she kept money in the exterior pocket, and even the “Mademoiselle lock” was named after the unmarried Coco, called “Mademoiselle” until the day she died.

In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld took over as Chanel’s Chief Designer, and introduced the interlocking CC turnlock to the bag’s design. By the mid 80’s, Chanel bags were produced with serial numbers included inside each bag, as a way to discourage counterfeiters. Other major changes during this era were the change from double flap to a single flap, as well as the inclusion of leather woven into the chain links of the shoulder straps. New sizes, and new leathers and fabrics were introduced in subsequent seasons as well.

 In February 2005, Lagerfeld reissued the classic flap design with all of Coco’s original detailing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the handbag’s debut. In handbag parlance, these bags are referred to as “Reissues,” while Lagerfeld’s CC turnlock versions are known as “Classic Flaps.”

To this day, the Chanel flap remains one of the most recognizable handbags in the world, and is synonymous with timeless elegance and pratical luxury.

Chanel bags, Jacqueline Kennedy, Mia Farrow

A classic then, and now.

Published in: on October 24, 2009 at 11:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dior’s “New Look”

Christian Dior began his career as a fashion designer at the age of 33. By 41, with a $500,000 investment from French textile millionaire Marcel Boussac backing his venture, the House of Dior was created. His first collection, designed for Spring 1947 and named “Corolle” after the flowers that inspired him, featured a drastic departure from the established “Chanel-esque” norm of women’s fashion designs.

 Dior chose a silouhette that was already being explored prior to WWII by designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga and Jacques Fath. However, it would be Dior and no one else that people thought of when seeing designs featuring slender shoulders, nipped waistlines, and voluminous skirts. Breaking away from the rationing of textiles during WWII, Dior created his gowns with sumptuous fabrics, using generous pleating details in his patterns that allowed many yards of fabric to be gathered into just one skirt.

 Some applauded his lavish and ladylike design aesthetic as a fresh new approach after decades of Chanel’s menswear-inspired, unstructured silouhettes, while others criticized his extravagent use of fabrics, as well as his reintroduction of the corset as a return to the binding discomfort of a bygone era in women’s fashion.

It was Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow who dubbed Dior’s collection as “the New Look,” and the moniker took hold. While Dior continued to come up with changing silouhettes and hemlines at a dizzying pace for the next few years of his career, the trend chasers bought voraciously to keep up with the freshest designs each season. However, it is his “New Look” that people remember as the catalyst of his stellar design career.

Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 7:35 am  Comments (1)  
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Fern Mallis on Fashion Week’s origins

Fern Mallis, currently the senior vice president of IMG Fashion, first organized the early incarnation of Fashion Week as “7th on Sixth” back in 1993, named for the Seventh Avenue (the Fashion District) tent shows at Bryant Park on Sixth Avenue. “I guess I’m somewhat the godmother of Fashion Week. So this is now sixteen years of having created the first organized, centralized, modernized shows in New York.”

 When discussing Fashion Week’s inception, Mallis recalls, “It was Market Week, which is what Fashion Week used to be called. And, typically, if there were fifty shows they were in fifty locations; no two things were ever in the same place. Everybody did their own thing. There was no sense of organizing, no sense of knowing how five hundred people get a taxi from one show to get to the next place and vice versa.”

Regarding the choice of location, Mallis said, “Bryant Park was like the backyard of the fashion industry — it’s the lawn for the industry. And so then the park was under construction and renovation, and we just wound up hiring a freelance show producer to help me put a project together. I went to Paris and Milan that next season to see what everybody else does. And then I got on the phone and started dialing for dollars and got Evian as the first sponsor, then got Anna Wintour from Vogue, then called Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE, and then one thing led to another and we got sponsors, including General Motors at the time.”

It reads like fate, or maybe serendipity, doesn’t it?

(Quotes from Daniel Vosovic’s Fashion Inside Out, 2008).

Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 7:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Louboutin’s red soles

The sight of red soles can send shoe lovers swooning, but how did Christian Louboutin’s trademark look come to be?

“I did not really choose the red sole. Its more like the red sole came to me and had to stay with me,” said the creator in an interview regarding his red sole inspiration. “It started as a happy accident, which I kept. I was very inspired by pop art so all my drawings were really full of colors. So the first prototype arrives. Its very similar to my designs so I was very happy. But something was missing. Thank God I had this girl with me who was painting her nails. Grabbed her nailpolish – thank you to Chanel for that! I grabbed the nailpolish and I painted the sole.”

Louboutin’s inspiration might have been contemporary, but the tradition of the red sole can be traced back to the 17th century court of King Louis XIV. An avid dance enthusiast, the King wore red soled shoes to draw attention to his shapely legs, and once the red soled craze had started, he declared only members of the court were allowed to wear their red soled shoes.

Status symbols, from the start!

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 7:34 am  Comments (1)  
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DVF forever

Diane von Fürstenberg is something of an obsession for me, along with Coco Chanel. Strong women who live life by their own rules are perennially on-trend in my book.

 In 1969, after marrying Prince Egon of Fürstenberg, the elder son of a German prince, Diane Halfin earned her von Fürstenberg title. She attributes her entry into the fashion world in 1970 as a by-product of becoming a wife, and with a $30,000 investment, she began designing women’s clothes.

 Her most iconic contribution to the fashion world is her knitted jersey “wrap dress,” introduced in 1973. The popularity of this dress design cannot be underestimated, and due to its significant influence on women’s fashion, it was admitted to the collection at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Known for its flattering silhouette that works on a variety of women’s body types, as well as its ease of wear and care, the wrap dress remains as popular with today’s buyers as it was nearly 40 years ago when she launched the trend that would define her life’s work in fashion.

Diane took time away from the fashion world but in 1997, after more than a decade, she successfully relaunched her high-end clothing line. In 2005, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awarded her a lifetime achievement award, and in 2006 she was named CFDA president, a position she continues to hold today. Fashion reality show lovers may remember her from her guest judge appearance on Project Runway’s past seasons.

Published in: on August 15, 2009 at 7:34 am  Leave a Comment