People often ask why CHANEL accessories never seem to age. It is because, having been influenced by the men in her life and even more by her own experience, Mademoiselle Chanel designed them to be practical and, except for a few decorative trimmings, always sensible. Above all, she was her own model: she imagined them, then wore them and finally added the finishing touches. Each detail was there for a reason. She endowed them with perfection and made them the emblem of luxury and elegance.
More than half a century later, still carrying the magic of a great myth, CHANEL accessories remain the symbol of modernity and good taste. This is due to Karl Lagerfeld’s talent. When he took over the famous inheritance of the rue Cambon in 1983, he adopted Goethe’s famous phrase as his motto: “Create a better future from the widened elements of the past,” and endeavored, without ever destroying anything, to change everything nonetheless.
In 1929 Mademoiselle Chanel was the first to introduce an elegant version of the shoulder bag. It did already exist, in the form of a large pouch with a wide strap, but was only used by members of the military on campaign. Women discovered, to their delight, that by using a thin strap they could walk around with their hands free. A new fashion was born. From then on, Mademoiselle Chanel constantly used this idea, until she eventually created the bag commonly known as the “2.55” (which is in fact its “date of birth”) in February 1955.
In leather for day, in silk or jersey for evening, the 2.55 is a “chef d’oeuvre” of refinement and perfection. First and foremost she wanted it to be functional, so she gave it a double flap which has a zip-fastened pocket inside it – a secret place for storing a love letter or blank notes. The three bellow pockets inside the bag and particularly the tube pocket for lipstick are equally useful.
To give it volume and shape – “it has to have body” she insisted – it was quilted in a diamond shaped pattern, using plain stitch, while on the garnet colored lining (the color of the uniform she wore in the orphanage) a double C is stitched like a coat of arms. Lastly, like an artists finishing touch, the rectangular clasp is gilted with gold, and the famous leather and chain shoulder strap slips easily through golden eyelets. Only details, perhaps, but nobody else had ever thought of the them. From then on the 2.55 became an integral part of the legend of CHANEL. Today it is considered a classic amongst leather goods: It is one of the accessories that every elegant woman must own.
Launched into orbit by Mademoiselle Chanel, the famous bag, a mythical object par excellence, has not, as yet, finished its trajectory. Today it is propelled into the contemporary world by Karl Lagerfeld. He adorns it with all the colors of the rainbow, dressing it from season to season in denim, tweed, velvet, sequins or raffia, and as if by the stroke of a magic wand, it is transformed into a giant or a Lilliputian. Or, in a practical frame of mind, fulfilling the demands of a new generation of women, he metamorphosises it, with gentle wit, into a rucksack, banana bag or vanity case.
Constantly inspired by contemporary trends, Karl Lagerfeld has, with a touch of irreverence, turned this legendary bag into the ultimate modern accessory. Even if the clasp still has a double “C” (gold plated, 3 microns), the chain and leather strap is sometimes replaced by one in stitched lambskin, the quilting patterns become more fanciful, herringbones or honeycombs, the CHANEL bag still remains faithful to its style and that “something” which makes it recognizable among all the others. The care taken over the quality of the leather and the finishing touches is just as important for Karl Lagerfeld today as it was in the time of the great Mademoiselle. The manufacture of the bag, with its 180 essential operations, still requires a level of precision and craftsmanship which is jealously guarded.
1955-2002…Mademoiselle Chanel once confided to Paul Morand: “Tired of carrying my bag in my hand and losing it, I added a strap and wore it as a shoulder bag”, must be satisfied. She may be intrigued, but also confident to see that her tradition is constantly renewed. Karl Lagerfeld can certainly prove that he still has more than one cat to let out of his bag!