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Chanel Exhibition: Sewing inspiration

Have you been lucky enough to get a ticket to the sold out Chanel exhibition at the V&A in London? Every garment on display is incredibly beautiful from the simple wearable designs to the luxurious textiles. Sadly, I don’t have any vintage Chanel fabric (not that I’m aware of anyway!). Instead, I’ve created an edit of vintage fabrics in my collection to help you create your own look inspired by the V&A exhibition.

Geometric Prints

An elegantly draped dress from Chanel’s Spring Summer 1934 collection. The original fabric is crepe de Chine. I’ve selected a 1950s fabric from my collection that also has large circles printed on a background of black grids.

The 1950s fabric is synthetic (probably Polyester) and has a soft drape similar to the fabric used on the Chanel dress. It would suit a long slimline dress such as the Autumn in London dress pattern from Seasons of East. I’ve also included a classic black satin with large polka dots. The prints are bolder than the original Chanel dress but I’ve selected them for their monogram geographical prints and soft drape.

The Suit

Chanel is synonymous with her own take on the formal suit when she restarted her business after World War II. The V&A have created an incredible two tiered gallery to display the suits. Here are a few of my favourites.

I particularly like the tailored dress, which would look fantastic recreated in a tailoring fabric. The tweeds I had available at the time of writing this blog have now sold out as I only had one off pieces.

The Linings

It is the detail of Chanel’s garments that are a real highlight of the exhibition. Identifying the subtle but ingenious construction as you try to make it to the front of the glass amongst the crowds. At the Curator talk before the launch, they highlighted the ease of wear stating ‘Chanel was conscious to choose softer fabrics that offered ease of movement’. Instead of hiding these soft fabrics, the couturier put them on show and used the garment linings as highlights, on the collar or pocket.

I’ve selected an edit of fabrics that have a lovely soft drape and would work well as a lining and trim.


Chiffon played a leading role in the Chanel garments on display at the V&A. ‘Chanel subtly accentuated the female form’ states curator Oriele Cullen at the curator’s online talk. ‘It is what the French describe as ‘allure’, the appearance of simplicity’. Chanel experimented with symmetry, volume and daring transparency inspired by lingerie.

The below fabrics are cotton chiffon rather than silk, their drape isn’t quite as soft as silk chiffon. The cotton chiffon will hold it’s shape beautifully for ruffles and gathers on a dress or top.

Evening Wear

‘Chanel promoted black as a chic symbol of modernity. Chanel’s little black dress was a global hit, as universal in its appeal as it was transformative’ (taken from the signage at the Chanel exhibition, V&A London). Lace, chiffon, silk, sequins and embroidery adorn ballgowns, tweed suits and a cocktail version of lounge pyjamas. ‘Chanel anticipated the needs of woman, finding fashion that is easy to wear’ (Stephanie Wood, co-curator). The silhouettes may be understated but the textiles are all embellished.

I have a small selection of lace, just enough for a top or to use as a feature. Perhaps creating a lace yoke or cape. Using satin or lace as a large bow too embellish a simple dress, enhancing it for a night out on the town. I do have a larger piece of deep navy organdie. It would create a dramatic bishop sleeve on a dress or full layer of a skirt with satin underneath. Combine the white wool crepe with the ivory lace for a layered effect.

I’ve recorded a video summary of this blog showing the fabrics in more details.

Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is on at the V&A South Kensington until February 2024. Tickets are now sold out but you can still gain access by becoming a member of the V&A. This gives you access to all the exhibitions, including the paid ticketed exhibitions. Plus 10% discount in the shop and access to lots of interesting events and talks. I joined the Curators Talk online a few days before the exhibition was launched. It gave me interesting insights and quotes before I visited the exhibition, which I’ve included in this blog post (reference 1). My membership also gives me free access at other V&A sites such as Dundee, where I visited the Tartan exhibition whilst on holiday in Scotland. Visiting a paid for exhibition 4 x a year is the same price as a years membership. I’ll be visiting this Chanel exhibition at least four times!