Evening ensemble, Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel

Evening ensemble, Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel

Evening ensemble (dress and shoulder cape)
Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel
1937-8, Paris
Satin, embroidered with sequins, with satin panels and sashes
Museum no. T.87&A-1974

Couturier clothing like this was custom-made for each individual client from the finest materials, and was out of most women's reach. However, couture influenced the silhouette and style of more affordable fashions and emulated aspects of it. The prevalent 1930s style, pioneered by couturiere Madeleine Vionnet, was the bias cut. Bias cutting (where fabric is cut diagonally to the grain of the fabric) created garments that skimmed over the body's curves. The 1930s silhouette is therefore slinky and close-fitting, and was accessorised with bolero jackets or short capes as seen here. The line was simple and uncluttered and few accessories were worn.

We usually associate Chanel's name with her practical classic suits, which first appeared in about 1917. She also created extravagant evening wear such as this sequinned dress and cape. The combination of glistening black sequins and scarlet satin panels is very dramatic. The rows of overlapping 'fish-scale' sequins emphasise the supple, falling lines of the outfit. The short, semi-circular cape has a scarlet satin lining.