IT IS the ultimate symbol of Parisian elegance. Now, the fashion house Chanel has revealed that the origins of its most iconic piece of clothing – the Chanel jacket – are Scottish.
In a new short film made by the Paris-based couture house on the history of the jacket, which has been worn by the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Kate Moss, Chanel reveals that Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel based its design on the men’s tweed jackets worn by her lover the Duke of Westminster while they stayed at his Reay Forest estate in Sutherland in the 1920s.
Although Chanel would not go on to design the jacket until 1954, the film reveals that her trips to Scotland more than 20 years earlier led to the basis of the jacket’s design, and that its shape was inspired by menswear such as the jackets she saw the duke wearing – and on occasion wore herself while fishing and hunting on his vast Scottish estate.
The film, called The Jacket, is one of a series of five exclusive works produced by the fashion house charting its extraordinary history. Others include the story of its most famous perfume, Chanel No 5 and another the scent’s association with Marilyn Monroe.
A spokesperson for Chanel said: “From the second half of the 1920s onwards, Gabrielle Chanel’s fashion became heavily influenced by the dressing habits of the English aristocracy and above all by the wardrobe of the Duke of Westminster. During her frequent visits to the duke’s Scottish estates she discovered the tweed jackets which he would wear to go hunting and fishing, as well as his Fair Isle sweaters.”
The jacket – which has passed into history as one of the most recognisable fashion items of the 20th century – was designed by Chanel as a response to the overly feminine and flouncy outfits of the early 1950s and as a way of allowing women to move more easily, like men.
In the film, Chanel says: “The hardest thing about my work is enabling women to move with ease, to move like they’re not in costume
“Not changing attitude, or manner, depending on their dress – it’s very difficult. And the human body is always moving.”
Karl Lagerfeld, the current head designer at the fashion house, once said of the jacket that “there are things in fashion that never go out of style: jeans, a white shirt and a Chanel jacket”. They retail for around £1,000 but vintage ones regularly change hands for several thousand pounds.
Dr Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation lecturer in history of dress and textiles at the Courtauld Institute of Art, said: “For designers like Chanel, coming to the fore post World War One, there was a desire to find ways to dress a modern woman and ways to incorporate the needs of a modern woman’s lifestyle into her wardrobe. What’s really important about Chanel is that she embodied it. She was living it and wearing the clothes that suited her lifestyle.”
She added: “What’s interesting is that she was going to Scotland, spending time with the Duke of Westminster, and then going to the French Riviera and yachting – it’s that combination of both lifestyles that lends itself to creating something like the Chanel jacket, which is essentially feminised menswear.”
The couture house has a well documented love affair with Scotland. Chanel used Scottish tweeds in many of her designs in the years following her affair with the duke, and also produced her own version of Fair Isle knit sweaters.
More recently Scotland last year played host to the Chanel Metiers d’Art show at Linlithgow Palace, which saw the world’s fashion pack fly in for an extravagant catwalk show and to rub shoulders with Lagerfeld, who wore a kilt for the occasion.
Meanwhile, Tilda Swinton, the Oscar-winning actress, is the latest face of Chanel, and has featured in a number of advertising campaigns for the fashion house, where she is said to be Lagerfeld’s “muse”.
Chanel’s biographer, Justine Picardie, revealed the connection between the designer and Scotland for the first time in 2010 by painstakingly going through the archives of the duke’s estates, looking for records that Chanel had stayed with him.
Picardie discovered that Chanel had spent three consecutive summers – for up to four months at a time – in Scotland with her then lover. The stays allowed her to indulge her passion for the outdoors, as well as be inspired by the attire that went along with hunting, shooting and fishing on a northern Scottish estate.
“The two-tone shoes are the kind of shoes that the Duke of Westminster would’ve worn,” said Picardie of Chanel’s designs. “The tweeds are absolutely the Scottish tweeds, the softness of them washed over and over again before they’re woven. The fluidity of the jacket seems to me to go directly back to those influences in Scotland in the 1920s.”