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It’s all about the Chanel dress, not Coco, at the NGV

There are, of course, little black dresses, but Arzalluz hopes that other garments will linger in the memory like the rose and jasmine scent of Chanel No.5.

“We keep talking about the little black dress, the pearls and the suit of course, but we’ve discovered this richness and an endless sophistication to her work,” Arzalluz said. “When she uses feathers, sequins and fringes, she does it in a way that doesn’t compromise the simplicity. She uses these decorative elements more as a material than as an adornment.”

The exhibition focuses on the work of Gabrielle Chanel rather than her extraordinary life.Credit:André Kertész/NGV

Chanel’s terrific and torrid biography may be exiled from the exhibition but the force of her personality, even 50 years after her death, elbows its way into almost every conversation and every item of clothing.

“She designed for herself, even before becoming a designer. She went to the essentials. We always talk abut pockets which she introduced early on. They were not only decorative, they were also useful, and you see her often in photographs with her hands in her pockets. Being relaxed in public was a privilege of men, so this was radical in itself.”

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The exhibition finishes, with Chanel’s last collection in 1971, long before the arrival of Karl Lagerfeld as creative director and current designer Virginie Viard. Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto is about one woman’s talent. Other people, including her wealthy lovers have received enough credit over the years.

“Everyone seems to think that her achievements were because of a man in her life, which is offensive,” Arzalluz said. “We don’t talk about male artists in the same way. People think that she discovered jersey because of Boy Capel or tweed because of the Duke of Wellington. Give her some credit. She was extraordinary.”

Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto exhibition from December 4 – April 25 at NGV International, Melbourne

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