Design Icon

Design Icon: Chanel Day Ensemble

by Maxwell Tielman


Design: Day Ensemble

Designer: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971)

Date: ca. 1927

Country of Origin: France

Materials: Silk, wool, metal

Background: Although Chanel is a household name today, the fashion house widely accepted as a purveyor of good taste and impeccable style, this was not always the case. When Coco Chanel made her way onto the fashion scene, her pointedly sparse designs—in key with the avant garde Modernist sensibilities of the time—might have come as a shock when paired against the more traditional, frilly garb of her time’s elite. Paul Poiret, a contemporary designer noted for his lavish, over-the-top designs, famously referred to Chanel’s work as “poverty de luxe,” a jab at the un-ornamented simplicity of her designs. Although Chanel’s clothes were light on ornamentation, they spoke to a different type of luxury. Simple and open-formed, free of corsets and weighty fabric, her designs were more concerned with comfort and leisure than visual ostentation. Outfits like this 1927 Day Ensemble are emblematic of the archetypical “Little Black Dress,” a modern-day fashion staple that owes its immense popularity to none other than Coco Chanel.

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

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  • In keeping with yesterdays state of the (blog) union. I want to tell you how much I appreciate the Style Icon column. Thanks D*S!

  • Chanel’s impact on the design world was huge, and carries on today. You hit the nail on the head with the little black dress — black had been a fashionable color for some time, but few would have worn it with so few embellishments during the day. She was designing for the modern woman. Without her vision, women’s clothing might have remained fussy and cumbersome for much longer in the 20th century. She knew what women needed before most of the world did — simplicity and ease.

  • Love her! I have written several blog posts about her lasting impact on fashion including jewelry. Chanel is a huge influence in my brick and mortar shop and my online shop. I love her classic simplicity.

  • I have written several blog posts on her influence on fashion and jewelry. Chanel is a huge influence in my brick and mortar shop as well as my online shop. Her classic simplicity is always in style.

  • I have always loved Chanel, but then was a fan of all couture of the 1920s and 30s.

    When I was a fashion design student in London in the 1980s, we were privileged to be given access to couture pieces that were not on display at the V&A in London, including those of Chanel, Poirot, Schiaparelli, Worth and more. It was thrilling to be able to hold these creations in my hands and take a close close at the construction etc. A heady feeling to say the least.