Gabrielle CHANEL Fashion Manifesto

V&A until February 25th 2024 News! Extended until 10th March.

I’m a little late to the party with this review as the exhibition has been on since September 2023 and is a re-working of an exhibition originally staged at the Palais Galliera, in Paris, in 2020…

Before you read further you should also note that this exhibition which ends on 25th February – is Sold Out. So, unless you become a member of the V&A, you’ll have no chance of seeing this show (more on this later).

I’m not going to elaborate on her life in this blog post – much has already been written about the life and times of Chanel, but there is an article in the link below, if you are interested in know more about her.

So what are the positives to be drawn from Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto?

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto ~ the postives:

The exhibition was a good mix between her life, values, skills and fashion.

There were many outfits on display and they were helpfully grouped into Little Black Dresses, Evening Wear, Sportswear, Tweed/Boucle etc etc

The exhibition explored her other ventures such as make up, shoes, handbags and jewellery. Not forgetting perfume.

The workmanship was exquisite particularly in the early clothes and day dresses…indeed the pre-war items were by far superior to her latter creations. She certainly had a way of updating one of her classic styles to make it look like a new idea. She was also, certainly designing and fabricating clothes for an elite audience.

The exhibition signage was easy to read being black text on white background.

Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto ~ the negatives:

The V&A has been host to many fabulous fashion exhibitions. In recent years. They have featured Dior, Alexander McQueen, Mary Quant to name a few. So, this is/was a long-awaited exhibition for the V&A – and it sold out very quickly.

The V&A are however promoting their membership option as a way to gain access to this exhibition.

While I can appreciate that there is value to the V&A of having more members. (It costs £77 for a simple annual membership.) There are some problems with promoting an already sold-out exhibition in this way.

The exhibition is already popular and the additional members entries meant there was queing to get in and at times the exhibition was very full. We had to stop and wait for access to clear to the next “room” of exhibits, a number of times. If you fancy spending a couple of hours packed like a sardine – then this is the place for you. Fortunately, being a very cold day outside when we visited, the exhibition rooms did not get too hot.

In places, the layout of the exhibition created pinch points. The very first was at the start of the exhibition where an information timeline of Chanel’s life was spread across the wall and around the entrance to the exhibition.

Most of the exhibits were behind glass. While I can understand the reasoning, it made it difficult at times to see the full details of the workmanship. Also many exhibits were under low lighting which made seeing the detail in the beautiful beaded black dresses a little tiring.

It also defeats me why the designers place a video of at least 5 minutes duration at a narrow section of corridor – again slowing/preventing the flow of movement through the exhibition.

The Chanel classic suits are all shown in one area on two heights or levels around the room. While it’s an impressive way to show a large number of items, it was impossible to appreciate the workmanship of the clothes on the upper level. I’ve also seen this artifice at several exhibitions now, and it’s become a little overworked as a feature, indeed a little lazy.

The book of the exhibition was on offer at £35 (a £5 discount on the usual price). However, the V&A had produced a soft-back version of the catalogue for just £20. It was no surprise to find out that this had sold out some time ago. But certainly, if you’ve already paid for a ticket or membership, travelled to London, had something to eat – this is not a cheap day out. I’m sure people would welcome the cheaper option. Just goes to show how many must have gone through the doors of the exhibition, if they’re already out of stock with another month to go. It will be interesting to see if they re-print soft-back version.

In Conclusion

It seems like I’m quite negative about this exhibition…but I spoke to a number of people on the day who agreed that while the exhibition was good – it did not compare to McQueen or Dior. So it wasn’t just my impression.

The exhibition was about Gabrielle Chanel – but I would have loved to have seen some continuation of the brand and designs, with perhaps some Lagerfeld pieces.

It is worth going to see Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto at the V&A, if you are happy to play sardines. Although I must say – that I squeezed in their DIVA exhibition too – which I really loved!

DIVA is on until 10th April 2024. £20 per ticket.

Gabrielle Chanel and Peach Fuzz @vintagechanel

January 2024