18 Nov 2013

Chanel inspiration - The little black jacket (history & patterns)

Gabriele 'Coco' Chanel wearing her own design
"Chanel wore the same tweed suit all day, changing only the scarves and jewelry for the evening." 
Let's start the week with a post about the classic Chanel jacket.
About a year ago Karl Lagerfeld published a book 'The Little Black Jacket: CHANEL’s classic revisited by Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld' filled with black and white pictures of celebrities wearing a classic, black Chanel jacket. Chanel died in 1971, aged 87. This fragile woman, also called 'The Lion' managed to dominate the fashion industry from the 30's until WW2. She retired in 1938 and made her comeback 16 years later because she was irritated that the Paris fashion industry was taken over by men. Today, we associate her name with luxury, elegance and craftsmanship. For more Chanel inspiration in Lagerfelds short movie "Once upon a time" click here.
did you know...
...that Chanel loved to be invisible? With her fashion shows but also in her salon she was often sitting on top of the stairs watching and listening through strategically placed mirrors, so that she remained invisible. 
...that the house models of her salon when fitting had to wear a boned elastic corset-bra  which kept their bust completely flat. 
...that royalty and the famous, like Bridget Bardot and Gina Lollobrigida were never fitted in the ordinary fitting rooms in the salon, they always had private fittings in Chanel's own apartments where she supervised and discussed the clothes?
Source: AWW
The most famous piece of garment associated with her name is (next to the 'little black dress') the 'cardigan-jacket' she invented in the mid-50's. It became her trademark. The launch of Lagerfeld's book was not only accompanied by an exposition of the pictures but also by a video on the making of the little black jacket. It is really interesting to follow step-by-step the construction process of designer garments, don't you think? When watching the video, the construction process looks so easy! Have you ever tried to make a Chanel-style jacket for yourself? Which pattern should you use? Before discussing that, let's take a look at the history of the classic, collarless Chanel jackets. (there were many versions with cut-on collars  too!) Through the years there were endless versions made in different fabric and color combinations. Coco Chanel had the shape ready from the 50's, after that slight variations in length were added. The loosely fitted, 'boxy' shape never changed though.

A blue suit with brick-red accessories. The cropped and collarless, 7/8 sleeved version is born. Here made of jersey, Chanel's favorite at the time. Barely visible are the two welt pockets, placed above the breast-line:

The year the classic Chanel jacket was born. Below a suit from her own collection which was auctioned in 1978 among 40 suits, dresses and costume made jewelry. This suit was made of beige check tweed, with knitted navy edgings:

Left: Printed silk suit. An experiment with other materials, but with the characteristic trimming bands in a contrast color. Also a set of patch-pockets appear.
Right: Pied-a-poulet suit in tweed. Hip-length, barely shaped, and embellished with gold buttons:

The jacket in oatmeal colored, textured tweed, with red and gold trimmings. Open front.

Variations in printed silk with Chanel's favorite accessory: the bow (left) and in silver lame (right)

Bright yellow in combination with a lining in a bold, contrasting geometric print

the making of

construction details
"Sometimes a suit was made 40 times before it was according to her wishes. She worked over and over the same suit until she was exhausted"
(- from Madame Grumbach, Chanel's closest colleague for the last 14 years of her life. )
From drawing to a finished item: don't you love this kind of making of video's? Especially with such a 'simple'  item as a jacket (I mean simple, in comparison to an evening gown, for example) it is relieving to see that they don't really work that differently than we do. Let's take a look at the construction:
  • They start out with an artistic drawing of the design: this one is the classic, collarless, semi-fitted, 3/4 sleeved cardigan-jacket:
  • The draper or toiliste is the person who really shapes the jacket. She uses muslin to drape the first version and develop the pattern. This involves a lot of pinning! The straight lines of bust, waist, sides are pencil marked. Look how carefully the pins are placed, really close to the seams and edges:

  • After the draping the pattern pieces are created. All of the marking lines,  curves and seamlines are drawn over again:

  • All the pieces are marked and all the pieces are drawn with the added seam-allowances all around (still can't understand why European patterns, like Burda don't include the seam-allowances...)

  • the seamstresses take over, the original muslin pieces are used as pattern pieces now and are pinned onto the fashion fabric...

  • ...then every piece is cut by hand:

  • Fusible interfacing is used to reinforce the edges. The classic Chanel jackets are usually made out of quite loosely woven, textured fabrics, like rough surfaced tweed or boucle:

  • The markings are both chalk-drawn and basted as well:

  • After assembling the jacket and the lining separately the two pieces are pinned together:

  • The characteristic braid trims are sewn on by hand:

  • Placing the patch pockets. Look how neat those pockets look!

  • Fitting! As you can see at this point one half of the jacket front is finished and the other one is still pinned. Interesting detail: the length of the 3/4 sleeve is exactly the same as the length of the jacket:

  • Another essential finishing touch of Chanel jackets, the chain along the inside edge is hand-sewn as well (the chain adds weight to the hem resulting in a smooth fit)

  • Steaming and pressing the seams again and again:

  • The finished jacket:

Here on the cover of the book, in the iconic Chanel-styling with the Chanel hat which Coco Chanel wore in the very first picture of this post, layers of pears and gold jewelry:

which pattern to choose?
If you intend to make your own Chanel jacket, there are many patterns to choose from. It is easy to mimic the elements of the classic Chanel styling: the use of structured tweed fabric, trimmings, the patch-pockets and the golden buttons. In 1964 Butterick released a pattern with 6-in-one options to make your own (unfortunately there isn't any internet source of the original pattern or technical drawing)

When looking at the contemporary patterns the next few seem to be the most popular (from left to right: Vogue 7975, Vogue 8804 and McCalls 6041)

But: have you noticed that the figure seams of all of these patterns have are different from the 'real' Chanel jacket from the video above? Just try to look beyond the styling! Have you considered this pattern below, McCalls 6441? Surprise: this pattern looks the most like the Chanel jacket! It has the curved princess seams like the original. You could simply shorten the sleeves, add patch pockets and a button band instead of the zipper, and finish the edges with the Chanel-style bands and buttons (or you could use a brooch to hold the front edges together as Chanel often did)

Below the technical drawing of this last pattern compared to the others:

Burda 8949 is similar too:

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