In the inventive universe of Gabrielle Chanel an array of distinctive shapes and motifs stand out, from her favorite flower, the camellia, to the powerful comet and the playful ribbon. Ever the innovator, Chanel seized upon familiar items in her remarkable life, transforming them into graphic statements to adorn clothes and accessories that caught the imagination of women throughout the decades, creating design icons that have stood the test of time.
One of the patterns and textures she loved and elevated to the realm of couture was quilting. She first becomes enamored with the tactile design in the early 1900s when she visited the stables of her friend Etienne Balsan, a horse owner and breeder. Mademoiselle would ride – chicly attired, of course, in jodhpurs, a white shirt, jaunty tie, and wide-brimmed hat-making note of the comfortable, padded quilting commonly used in the equestrian world for saddle cloths, horse blankets, and grooms’ jackets.
Quilting debuted on the CHANEL runway in the 1920s. The famed couturier employed it initially as a textural contrast for linings, collars, and cuffs, and then designed matelassé dresses and robes. In November 1924 Vogue magazine highlighted “one of Chanel’s flights of fancy: dress fronts in shiny quilted silk.” The diamond checkerboard print also popped up in collections in the 1930s. There are even Chanel quilted cushions, though they are not for sale. These were custom-stitched to complement the large beige suede sofa Mademoiselle ordered in the 1930s for her Paris apartment; they remain there to this day.
Once Gabrielle Chanel had given specific instructions to the craftsman she entrusted with the task, Mr Monnot, “Stitch it all over so that it stays.” She did not refer to her fabric as ‘quilted’. Fitted with a chain strap, the material was turned into the forerunner of the famed 2.55, coveted by fashionable ladies since its launch in February 1955.
Quilting has become an integral part of the CHANEL style, the tweed jacket, shoes, the frames of sunglasses, even in eyeshadow palettes and is the inspiration for the Matelassé watch launched in 1993. Later, it also entered the world of CHANEL Fine Jewellery featuring lines of twinkling pavé stones in the place of the stitches on a golden framework or set with another house icon, pearls.
In 2015, another quilt-inspired Fine Jewellery collection is launched, COCO CRUSH. Simplicity itself, the collection is born from the spirit of modernity and refinement that Gabrielle Chanel, as she went horseback riding in the bloom of her youth, would instil in high fashion, changing the way women have adorned and carried themselves for more than a century.