The Shape of Chanel

How the latest exhibition at the V&A is a striking reminder, that quality clothes are for keeps.

If there is one unfaltering fashion brand which has stood the test of time, it is Chanel. Consistently classic and continually coveted, this label has remained untarnished and pretty much unrivalled, for over a century.

I was lucky enough to go and see the latest exhibition at the V&A, in its opening week. It was as enchanting as I had hoped. ‘Gabrielle Chanel, Fashion Manifesto’ is a beautiful reimagining of an exhibition which originally took place in Paris, in 2020, showcasing 200 Chanel looks. Starting with her millinery boutique in Paris, through to her very last collection from 1971, which she was still working on when she passed away that year.

Not only is this exhibition a comprehensive curation of clothing, it also gives us an in-depth narrative on Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel herself, the woman who created this oh-so-iconic label. Raised as an orphan, and taught how to sew by Nuns, Chanel went on to become a successful socialite, with many still pondering if she was actually a wartime spy for the Germans. At the young age of 27, she opened her first ever boutique (with the financial assistance of her wealthy lover) at 21 Rue Cambon, in Paris. A pioneering business woman, she remained unmarried all of her life. She was as much an inspiration for female independence, as she was for fashion.

Her style and designs quickly became popular all over Europe, for their simplistic elegance and exceptional high quality. To see so many pieces on display at this exhibition is testament to just how long good quality clothing can live. Understandably, when you buy well made clothes, you look after them carefully, and they pay you back with durability. All the exhibits were in stunning condition. I’m sure some of the more delicate pieces wouldn’t fare too well if you were to pop one on today for an all night party, but, on the whole, they still hold their style, their wearability and all the wonderful details with which they were made.

The palette of this exhibition was delicious, like an ice cream parlour. Colour blocked by room, starting with creamy vanilla from Chanel’s early beginnings, sprinkled with some sugary sweet pastels. The room of suits (arguably her most iconic look, and the most talked about room in the exhibition) is a feast for the eyes. Show stopping cabinets of colour; sorbet brights and pops of bold berry tones, all standing to attention hoping you’ll choose them as your favourite flavour. It wouldn’t be a Chanel exhibition if it didn’t feature black. A colour only really worn for mourning until Chanel made it a go to look for understated glamour. We also see examples of Chanel’s skincare, bags and jewellery. This woman was aware that beauty and fashion sell, and she evidently knew how to build a brand which everyone would want.

The final room made me gasp out loud. I do like a bit of theatrics in a fashion exhibition. The sweeping staircase mimicking her original Rue Cambon boutique, made me feel like I had waltzed onto the set of a 1950’s Hollywood musical. Spellbinding. Exhibitions have a wonderful way of absorbing us into another time and place, and this one did that superbly. ‘Gabrielle Chanel, Fashion Manifesto’ is a gorgeous trip along the timeline of this brilliant brand. One which still has a heartbeat as strong as when it first began. Very much worth a visit.

‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’ is at the V&A until February 25th, 2024.

All photos by me.

The Outstanding Talent of Thierry Mugler

When a creative icon passes away, we all lose something. No more will we get the privilege of seeing exciting new work, no more ideas will form in their wonderful minds. The world of fashion and its followers are all a little worse off now that genius Designer, Manfred Thierry Mugler has died at the age of 73, on January 23rd, 2022. Famed for his architectural, sculpted designs, his fetishistic leanings and his unapologetic exaggerations of the female form; Mugler goes down in history as a legend in his own lifetime. A pioneer of provocative, ground breaking collections, he leaves a legacy which will never stop influencing future generations. Here’s some of Mugler’s work which captured mine and many peoples hearts.

Gold Leather Suit, A/W 1979

Futuristic and sexy as all heck, this insanely cool leather suit was strides ahead of its many copycat leather tailorings of the 1980’s.


Peekaboo Cut-Out Dress A/W 1995

Always one to push the boundaries of cheekiness, this bum-baring evening dress is full on flirtation. Elegant and sophisticated, until you turn around and boom!…bum is out! I adore this fun filled take on fashion.


Motorcycle Corset, 1992

Later reincarnated for Beyonc√® on her 2009 ‘I Am’ tour, this corset is possibly Mugler’s most legendary and well known design. Created for George Michael’s infamous ‘Too Funky’ video.


Venus Gown, 1995

A sensational show stopper of a dress, and a typical celebration of womanhood by Mugler. More recently worn by Cardi B on the red carpet.


Wet Dress, 2019

Mugler came out of retirement to create this mouth watering optical illusion of a dress, for Kim Kardashian to wear to the Met Gala. She does wear it better than anyone else I could imagine.


Haute Couture at Cirque d’Hiver, 1995

Mugler loved to blur the line between fantasy and reality and his penchant for sci-fi was always evident. This collection marked the 20th anniversary of his brand and was staged in his usual theatrical way, at Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. The metallic robotic cat suit with perspex breast windows went down in history as a look which lingers on fashions radar.


David Bowie, 1970’s

Confronting gender norms has been around for decades, albeit in a less mainstream way, but Mugler was always a pioneer of this theme. His designs were beautifully worn on numerous occasions by the inimitable David Bowie.


Gold & White Dress, A/W 1984

As a lover of sculptural 80’s dresses, and anything kitsch and bold, this dress is one which pushes ALL of my buttons, what a trailblazer Mugler was for 80’s OTT party looks!


Sexy Cleopatra, S/S 1985

Fiercely feminine and deliberately sexualised, this is a dress which would look bang up to date at any club today. You can never have too much gold in an outfit.


Beastly Woman, A/W 1997

Stunning his audience with this somewhat inhuman look, this is a blend of bird, beast and fish, with scales of golden armour, feathers and a serpent eyed stare from the model. His most intense project, this outfit was said to have taken 24 hours a day for 6 weeks, to make. Worth it for sure. Wow.


We’ll never see another talent as radiant and radical as Thierry Mugler, an epic loss. What do you love most about Mugler’s legacy? Let me know in the comments!

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Architect of Attire – The Genius of Charles James

There’s a handful of names which roll off the tongue when talking about fashion designers of the twentieth century. Dior, Chanel, Quant, Balenciaga, to name a few. But there’s one other name which deserves to be spoken of in the same league, and that is the oh-so-innovative Mr Charles James.

Born in the UK in 1906 to an English Father and American Mother, James moved to Chicago as a young man and worked in the offices of a family friend. After putting on a fashion show for fun (which consisted of Batik beach wraps) the family friend saw talent in James and moved him to the Architecture department. There he learnt the mathematics and structural skills which he would later utilise in his dress designs. James went on to work in fashion from the 1920’s onwards. He soon became the first Parisian style Couturier the US had seen, having such influence on fashion design that his contemporary, Dior, remarked that James was ‘the greatest talent of my generation’. That’s quite some claim when you consider that in his 45 year career, James only produced around 100 garments. But such was the magnificence of his designs, he earned every bit of recognition, and continues to inspire designers to this day, including my favourite; Zac Posen. Charles James deserves to be up there with the most well known names of the century.

In particular, James was known for ballgowns – and mY GoSH, do I loooove vintage ballgowns – winning high society clients in both the US and Europe. If you wanted to be seen in a ground breakingly beautiful gown, James was the man you needed to have on speed dial. Or rather the old fashioned equivalent. Either way, if James made you a dress, you would WOW. Fact.

During his career, James proved to be a pioneer of design, adopting an innovative approach to the structure of each garment. His dresses weren’t simply made, they were engineered and sculpted with complex corsetry and draping. He developed a signature ‘Wall of Air’ in his dresses to hold the fabric away from the body, allowing these heavy works of art to sit comfortably on the wearer. He loved a bustle (don’t we all?) and gave numerous nods to the Victorian silhouette. He wasn’t only a leader in the sense of shape, he was also the first designer of his time to use zippers, snaps, synthetic fabrics, and unusual pairings of colours. Without James, I reckon we could be looking at quite a different history of fashion.

James is best known for a few of his signature dresses, all of which paved the paths of future designers.

Clover Leaf Dress, 1953

The Clover Leaf dress is astounding, and quite possibly his most praised. Made in satin, it was constructed from four sections (torso, upper skirt, middle section of the skirt, and the hem) and the base has four corners resembling a clover leaf. James’ designs were often derived from the beauty of nature, and he always interpreted it in such a modern and original way. He first designed the Clover for Austine Hearst to wear to the 1953 Eisenhower Inaugural Ball. This 10lb gown sat balanced on the hips and made a sweeping statement. Deemed too bulky for that occasion, Hearst ended up wearing it to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II instead. A worthy wear, in my opinion. James made six black and white clover dresses during his career.

Butterfly Dress, 1955

Another dress inspired by nature, James’ Butterfly dress is a sensation. Once you know that it’s designed in reference to a Butterly form, you can see it. The slim column body with the layered transparent tulle as wings. Incredibly elegant, James formed a higher torso and bust line than usual to accentuate its length and proportions. This earthy tone was so novel for evening wear, but brown was soon secured as a perfect palette for future fashions.

Taxi Dress, 1932

Many credit Diane von Furstenberg for creating the infamous ‘wrap dress’ in the 70’s. But way before she was even born, James had already created the style. He actually first developed it in 1929 and went back to fully realise the design in 1932 when it got stocked in small amounts in department store, Best & Co. It was a highly wearable piece and was made with modern women in mind; the idea being that it was easy to take on and off in the back of a taxi! Formed from one piece of seamless fabric, it had a spiral zipper and three clasp hooks to anchor it at the hip. Just. Genius. And, way to go for making life easier for the gals!

Charles James is high up there in my top 5 favourite designers of his era. The drama of the designs, the show stopping extravagance, twinned with an original flattery of the female form, means that his work thrills my eyes. And when you add to all that the fascinating construction behind each idea, well, it’s just dreamy for any vintage lover.

Stunning, and with a story. Perfect.

Thanks for reading, if you have learned something and enjoy my writing, you can always show your appreciation by buying me a virtual cuppa! xx

Ya Gotta Love a Leiber Bag!


Last month, legendary maker of lovely bags, Judith Leiber, passed away at the grand age of 97. I absolutely adored her designs. She died in New York, at her home, just hours after her husband of 72 years also died; which is a strangely sweet situation. Budapest born Leiber began making bags after the second world war for the secretaries of the American Legation. and just over a decade after that she relocated to America and her company was born in 1963. Loved by the famous and the fashionable, Leiber’s quirky and covetable designs bring a big ole smile to ya face. ‘You have to have a sense of humour’ she once said, and her delightful delicacies – which include ice cream sundaes, over-sized bows and animals in outfits – proved that playfulness was paramount in her work. Over her career she made leather bags, shoulder bags, snakeskin bags and evening bags, with her iconic signature style being the miniature metal cocktail bags which were completely covered in rhinestones. These sparkling sturdy bags were developed by accident when Leiber once had a metal based bag which had a stain on it, so she covered the stain with crystals, and, ta-daaah, her biggest hit was born! These luxurious bags are all hiiighly collectible and are pretty darned pricey but, so, so delightful. Seen in the hands and on the arms of Bjork, Emily Blunt, Barbara Bush and our very own Queenie, its no wonder that examples of her designs are on display in museums around the world. A swan shaped encrusted bag was featured in an episode of Sex & The City – when Big gave it to Carrie in lieu of saying ‘I love you’ – and this pretty much cemented Leiber’s place in pop culture history. She leaves behind her a real legacy of loveliness.
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If you ever find yourself with the desire to spend some big bucks on a brilliant bag, you can see the selection here, or, browse vintage stores for her older designs, they will always be an ace investment.

Mon Dieu, Dior! An Impulsive Pop to Paris

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So, Paris is always a good idea, so the saying goes, and I kinda think it’s true, as I discovered when I impulsively popped to the very pretty city. Paris played host to what I can now confirm to have been a dreeeeam exhibition of Dior, and since it opened in July 2017 I had been properly pining to go. I wrote it off as too indulgent and costly, but, when I realised I had no plans for New Years Eve, and that the exhibition ended in early January of 2018, well, the pangs for Dior proved to pull me towards booking a solo trip. A treat for myself after a very tough year. ‘Couturier De Reve’ (dressmaker of dreams) was an exhibition I just couldn’t miss. I imagined being an old lady and saying ‘I nearly went to Paris to see that amazing Dior exhibition, but didn’t go in the end’, and that thought made me sad, so I booked a seat on Eurostar, and went.

Pop! Paris was calling.

It did cost me money, and it did feel feel indulgent, but it did make me very happy and I’m so bloody glad I went. Dior did not disappoint, not one teeny bit. Paris itself was wonderful, an exciting and elegant city, and travelling alone was just what I needed, (more on the city and travelling solo in my next posts) but Dior, damn, it was divine. Celebrating 70 years since The House of Dior was created, it was an exhibition of epic proportions. I’d arrived late one afternoon so wandered down to The Musee Des Arts Decoratifs so that I knew where I’d have to get to the next morning, and what the queuing set up was like. Getting there from my hotel was straightforward as the Metro was real easy to navigate, and even though the museum was due to close in an hour the queue was still wiggling a long way down the street. Gah, I’d have to pitch up real early in the morning to ensure I got in on my only full day in Paris. So I got there bright and breezy with a croissant in my tummy on the morning of New Years eve, and the queue was pretty short. Phewf! I stood and chatted in line with a lady from Stockholm and we got in as soon as the doors opened. I kinda knew I’d be flabbergasted by it all, my tummy was all of a fizz with excitement. It totally blew me away. Like a combination of all the best bits of any fashion exhibitions I’ve seen in my life, this was simply spectacular. I’m a girl in love with dresses, and this Dior show was dress paradise. It was insightful, educational, expertly curated and so, so beautiful. There were loads of rooms, each completely different to the next, and it covered Dior himself and his design beginnings and went on to showcase the work of all the designers at the helm of this house up until now. It was an absolute heck load of lovely. And, as a vintage dealer who has often referenced his iconic New Look outfit -which defined a decade of dressing- to see that in up close was pretty fluppin’ brilliant. It was busy, but calm, all of us in awe of what our eyeballs were seeing. The final room of course had been instagrammed to the heavens and I was most excited to get in there for real. It was like a fashion finale with everyone in there like,¬†literally gasping at the utterly magical feeling it created. Sparkling lights like stars moving around the high painted ceilings of this grand space, music kissing our ears, and dresses, showstopping dresses which I’ve only ever seen in fashion history books, right there in front of my own face. I don’t think I’ve ever been this immersed or amazed by an exhibition before, absolute perfection. Dior sure made my dreams come true in Paris that day.

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