Inside Chanel: Episode 29

Discover Coco Chanel’s enduring legacy in the interconnected worlds of fashion and dance

The House of CHANEL continues its historical video series Inside Chanel by charting how its founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel revolutionized fashion and opened up the world to a new generation of independent women. By combining archival footage with show-stopping graphic animation, the series so far serves as a glimpse into how her work influenced European high society, the golden age of cinema and cultural phenomena. In this latest episode, we learn how she used the medium of dance to mirror her vision of a free and unfettered feminine form.

During the 1920s, dance was undergoing a great revolutionary change. Bygone quadrilles and rigid ballroom steps were eagerly replaced by international moves that mixed classical technique with jazz styles and pantomime. At the start of the century, Gabrielle Chanel took dance lessons with acclaimed American performer Isadora Duncan and then with Parisian dancer Caryathis. Both women taught Gabrielle Chanel the importance of intuitive physical expression, which complemented her desire to create emancipatory clothing for women. 

“There is no other beauty than the freedom of the body”

“Always remove, always strip away,” Gabrielle Chanel once said. “Never add… There is no other beauty than the freedom of the body.” The young designer favored comfort over appearance, and simplicity over excess. In her designs, which were inspired by the freedom of movement she was in search of while dancing, cinched corsets and heavy bolts of fabric were removed to show off the body’s natural silhouette. 

Gabrielle Chanel’s approach to fashion was as revolutionary as Pablo Picasso’s cubist work and Igor Stravinksy’s modernist compositions—two avant-garde contemporaries who worked with Gabrielle Chanel during the time of the legendary Ballet Russes. This itinerant dance company was founded by Russian art critic and ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev. He revolutionized outdated conventions in classical dance by commissioning artistic visionaries such as ballet principal Vaslav Nijinsky, writer Jean Cocteau and artist Salvador Dalí to create a dazzling world where music, dance and the visual arts came together. 

“Dance is a facsimile of the elegant, irrepressible nature of the female allure”

In 1924 Diaghilev thought the quintessentially modern Gabrielle Chanel would make the perfect costumier for Le Train Bleu, a satirical ballet set by the French Riviera. Her daring designs were the first to put dancers in realistic sportswear; bathing tank tops, wool jerseys and muted tunic dresses accessorized with swimming caps and tennis rackets were all part of Gabrielle Chanel’s inexhaustible commitment to infuse movement and life into fashion.

Under the stewardship of the indomitable Karl Lagerfeld and now his successor Virginie Viard, the House of CHANEL has continued to work closely with the world of dance. The House has designed costumes at the request of choreographers Uwe Scholz and Benjamin Millepied, created an incredible feather tutu for the prima ballerina on the occasion of the reprise of Swan Lake in 2009, and has been a patron of the Paris Opera’s new season opening gala since 2018.

Dance is a facsimile of the elegant, irrepressible nature of the female allure. It forms a part of Chanel’s interdisciplinary history and reaffirms Gabrielle Chanel’s enduring legacy as a cornerstone of contemporary fashion.July 27, 2020

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