In Salzburg, Austria, the lady with a love of camellias crossed paths with a hotel lift operator, who’s uniform gave her the initial idea for a four-pocket jacket. It is said that her lover at the time, the Duke of Westminster, was responsible for her rather British taste for tweed. It was no surprise that the couturier ended up opting for this very same material: a lesser-washed wool that allowed for greater flexibility and softness. The skin is invited to get cozy with the jacket through the further inclusion of silk, taffetas, and jersey fabrics. The perfectionism behind Mademoiselle’s avant-garde approach drove her to open up the fashion world to a little jacket with crisp lines.
With its straight cut, the jacket is structured in such a way as to give a greater ease to movement: Chanel wanted women to be gracious, for them to glide along with every step they took. The front of the garment is constructed out of straight yarn, without a fastener, making the fabric mean everything. The back is divided up by a single line of stitches. The secret to the garment’s perfect fit? A gold chain hemming the inner lining, that has since become one of the design house’s signatures. To this day, they are still the only ones to employ this technique to achieve such an impeccable verticality.
For Gabrielle Chanel, everything needed to serve a purpose, and that purpose needed to be a practical one. Her mindset is poured out into each part of her masterpiece. The four pockets had to be perfectly measured to be able to contain a handkerchief, a piece of paper, or a lighter. As for the sleeves, fitted to the height of the shoulders, their incommodiously narrow appearance is just an illusion: thanks to a piece of fabric placed just under the armpits, the arm’s movements are liberated from the rigidity of the rest of the garment.
Corded braids are also present and accounted for: free and inventive, they are the physical manifestation of Chanel’s imagination. Each one of them is distinct, for “on principal, I always invent, I don’t do anything that already exists. I consecrate myself to the unique” Gabrielle said. In gold, silk, or silver, they are nevertheless always in line with the buttons. Treated like precious gems, the fasteners have appeared in several different incarnations, the designer’s favorite being a lion’s head.
This little jacket still hasn’t ceased to enchant. Karl Lagerfeld has adeptly managed to maintain its rich heritage all while leaving his own personal mark: the buttons’ designs have expanded to include the double-C logo, four-leaf clovers, and camellias with different shades each season. From time to time, the little black jacket has even been known to appear in different colors depending on the season. But all in all, it is a special kind of eternal youth that continues to drive this piece, the most copied in the world, forward.