Historic brands and aspiring designers channel Miss Coco Chanel’s legacy at Paris Fashion Week


Zara Black '23

Paris Fashion Week welcomes new styles that weave in the legacy of Miss Coco Chanel’s freedom of expression.

Fabric rustled, heels hit the runway, and the spotlight shined on the debut work of the 2023 Fall and Winter collections of designers as they embraced freedom of expression and the legacy of Coco Chanel at Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2023 from February 27 to March 7.  The fashion industry gathered in Paris, France, for the annual Fashion Week.  Designers showcased their lines with themes of expression, passion, and individuality on the runways, prompting the idea of dressing for the comfort of the subject rather than the comfort of societal conformity.  As the barriers of gendered and stereotypical fashion continue to disappear, credit is due to Miss Gabrielle Chanel (Coco Chanel) who took one of the first steps in tearing down these barriers between female and male fashion to create designs that allowed women to express themselves freely.

Coco Chanel was born August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France, and was quickly met with a life far from glamour.  After her mother’s death, her father orphaned Miss Chanel and moved her into the care of nuns.  Through this, she developed her passion for fashion, learning to sew from the nuns who raised her.  After her early life, she pursued a short career as a singer and gained the name “Coco,” which she claimed was a shortened name for cocotte, which in French translates to “the kept woman.”  This nickname would later not only become a defining factor of her brand but one that conveyed the essence of her work and the clothing line she spent her life designing, according to bbc.com.

The evolution of the fashion industry draws from the original ground-breaking styles, cuts, and silhouettes of Miss Chanel’s debut work.  Zara Black ’23

Miss Chanel’s passion drove her to seek out investors that would help fashion her dreams into a reality.  At 20 years of age, Miss Chanel found success and opened her first shop on Paris’ Rue Cambon, one that would soon be followed by her opening of two new stores in Deauville, France, and Biarritz, France.  Though she found her first profits through a line of hats, she soon discovered her talent for fashionwear after gaining admiration for the simple yet sleek dress she had fashioned out of an old jersey.  The revolutionary design embraced the pairing of comfort and style as it moved away from the restrictive corsets and gravitated towards a flattering design that still provided elements of high-end fashion, according to bbc.com.

With her unique perspective on the fashion industry, Miss Chanel reinvented masculine fashion items and stereotypical colors, bringing a renewed meaning to each item she designed.  Taking the suit from the male wardrobe, Miss Chanel fashioned one of her most recognizable designs, a two-piece tweed suit that encompassed a soft and light fabric fitting more pleasantly than a blazer while flattering the feminine frame and allowing for freedom of movement.

Her attention to detail and focus on comfort led to her success and continual aim to find new ways to reshape fashion.  Her iconic little black dress, which appeared on the cover of the October 1, 1926 issue of US Vogue, revitalized the color black while creating a staple in the female wardrobe.  She had created a brand that was classic and versatile, becoming a powerhouse in the fashion world, according to bbc.com. 

In a male-dominated industry, Miss Chanel became a pioneer by directing the purpose of her designs toward women, drawing from male cuts, styles, and fashionwear to create a female line that emphasized the confidence of the buyer.  These ideas expanded the fluidity of the fashion industry as the female wardrobe expanded past the limitations of dresses, skirts, and blouses and welcomed the inclusion of common items in masculine designs.  The rigid barrier that once stood between gender-designated worlds fragmented, and Miss Chanel led a movement that welcomed change, diversity, and the ability to use the spontaneity of the imagination as the pencil to the fashion sketch.

As Paris welcomed back timeless designer houses and extended an offering to new brands hoping to pave runways of success with debut lines, traces of Miss Chanel’s influence remained entwined in this new generation of fashion.  Her efforts to provide women with alternative clothing choices remain consistent in current style.  The world of fashion revolves around freedom of expression as wearers use clothes as an extension of their personality, culture, and identityThrough a broader range of styles, cuts, and gender-fluid designs, people have an array of choices that allow them to express themselves in their desired way.

The designs of Miss Chanel have inspired the lines that are in not only the Chanel collection this past year, but also in many others at Paris Fashion Week in the fall and winter.  Zara Black ’23

As designers embraced gender-fluid silhouettes, new cuts, fabrics, and ideas, DAWEI, the line Mr. Dawei Sun (DAWEI), displays this diversity in the designs he showcased on the runways.  DAWEI, the founder and creative director of the brand, carried his passion for freedom of expression through his work with the goal of offering women a collection of clothing that represented the inner self while embracing a silhouette for all ages.  In an interview with Ms. Katrina Djoric, Co-Founder and Fashion Director at DSCENE Magazine, DAWEI conveyed the inspiration for his work, seeing his designs as an extension of the subject wearing it, according to daweistudio.com.

“I design for independent female, [sic] who are free to chase their dreams,” DAWEI said, according to designscene.net.  “I don’t have a muse in particular but, for example, the first female pilot Amelia Earhart, she was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  She is free and brave to chase her dream.  Her spirit inspires me a lot.”

Uruguayan-American designer Ms. Gabriela Hearst brought colorways of brown, black, and white to life as the House of Chloé debuted their Fall/Winter 2023 collection.  With the goal of preserving the legacy of its founder, Ms. Gaby Aghion, the brand creates each piece in hopes of empowering women.  Ms. Aghion envisioned an industry where femininity stood boldly among male designers and rigid design, and the work of Ms. Hearst embodied this passion for change as models walked the runway toward inclusivity.  In her review of the debut of the House of Chloé’s clothing line, writer for Fashionista Ms. Ana Colón described the depth behind the line with its many layers and ways of showcasing the beauty of femininity, according to fashionista.com.

“At Chloé, Gabriela Hearst is concerned first and foremost with femininity — what it is, what it can be, how it manifests, how it’s evolving,” Ms. Ana Colón wrote, according to fashionista.com.  “Her interpretations range from the literal (proposing her take on the pieces traditionally associated with the feminine, like dresses) to the more figurative (like playing with materials that share qualities we think of as feminine, such as softness and protectiveness).  A woman contains multitudes, and so does the brand’s Fall 2023 collection.”

Designers Alexius Mabille and DAWEI and design house Chloé pave pathways with the new colorways and gender fluid silhouettes present in the Paris Fashion Week Fall and Winter lines.  Zara Black ’23

The collection of Mr. Alexius Mabille came alive as vibrant colorways brought the Fall and Winter seasons vitality and warmth.   Mr. Mabille’s passion for crafting each piece with a lively spirit that remained attuned to the chic nature of French fashion brought redefined color and diversity to the designer lines on display.  His love for glamour and the abstract blend in perfect harmony to fashion a wardrobe that combines the multiple ways in which personality, attitude, and style can be expressed for each person, regardless of gender and other confining factors.  In an interview with Vogue, Mr. Mabille discussed his use of vibrant colorways in his Fall/Winter line to bring exuberance to the colder seasons and pave a path that encouraged designers to experiment with new ideas, according to vogue.com.

“Some styles might appear classic in one color, but when you make it fluorescent yellow it becomes something else entirely,” Mr. Mabille said, according to vogue.com.  “Color is like therapy for me, and I wanted to use it for winter because, when you think about it, color doesn’t belong to the seasons.”

Ultimately, Miss Chanel paved a path away from the conformity of the fashion industry and worked for change that promoted freedom of expression for women.  Through this pioneering movement, Miss Chanel became a historic designer for her radical style choices. This legacy shapes the many lines that debuted in Paris this past week, and throughout the world,  as fashion welcomes individuality.  Whether designers are embracing fashion from the wardrobe of another gender, styling for comfort, or utilizing sleek cuts, they are sewing the threads of the legacy of Miss Chanel within the fabric of varying designs and the daring mindset of expression.

Featured Image by Zara Black ’23