The NGV is bringing a major Chanel exhibition to Australia, here’s what you need to know



The National Gallery of Victoria’s latest exhibition is not to be missed.

The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has played host to a bevvy of major fashion exhibitions over the years. But its upcoming exhibition Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto might be the most impressive of them all.

The first exhibition in Australia to focus on the monumental impact renowned French designer Gabrielle Chanel had on twentieth-century fashion, it will feature over 100 garments handpicked from across her career.

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Widely regarded as one of the most influential designers of all time, Gabrielle Chanel injected fashion with a modern sensibility that is still as relevant today as it was when it first debuted. She united function and elegance in women’s wardrobes, and her designs represented women’s growing freedom in society.

The exhibition was originally developed by Palais Galliera, the fashion museum of the City of Paris, and features awe-inspiring loans from Chanel’s heritage department, Direction du Patrimoine de Chanel. The NGV presentation will also feature a selection of designs (including never-before-seen acquisitions) from the NGV Collection.

In anticipation of the exhibition, I asked Danielle Whitfield, the NGV’s fashion and textiles curator, to reveal a little about what we can expect from this fashion extravaganza.

What can we expect from the exhibition? 

Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is an expansive and visually sumptuous exploration of the work and fashion legacy of Gabrielle Chanel (1883–1971). It features more than 110 garments, 75 items of jewellery, as well as the iconic perfumes, cosmetics and accessories we still associate with the house today. The show spans 1916 to Chanel’s last collection of 1971 and looks at how her design philosophy led to a new and liberating mode of feminine elegance.

What are some of the highlights? What should we most look forward to? 

The highlights are Chanel’s early daywear, her ‘little black dresses’ of the 1920s, her ‘romantic’ lace and tulle fashions of the 1930s and tweed suits of the 1950s, each a template of modern femininity. Another highlight is of course the opulent jewellery; necklaces, cuffs, collars, pendants, rings, bracelets and brooches in Chanel’s signature mix of real and imitation, precious and semi-precious, stones and metals.

What may surprise some attendees?  

Most of our audiences will be familiar with little black dresses, the tweed suits, the quilted bags and Chanel No.5, but what they may not realise is how radically modern and antithetical these design ideas were when they were first presented. The understatement that we perceive as timeless elegance today, derives from Chanel’s principles of restraint and an austere luxury, and her reductive approach to design. A perfect example is a gold silk evening dress dated to 1930 constructed from pattern pieces that spiral around the body, that could be worn on the red carpet today.

What might we learn from the exhibition we did not already know? 

I think audiences will see just how closely Chanel’s designs mirrored her own lifestyle and desire for a style of dressing that, while supremely elegant, also privileged function, comfort and ease of movement above all else.

Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto’ will be on display at NGV International, Melbourne from December 5 2021 to April 25 2022. For more information head here.

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