Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chanel and Sailor Chic

Where does inspiration come from? That is a question that lingers in my mind, especially when I think I have come up with an original idea only to discover that someone else has beat me to it.

On January 7th, Christina Binkley wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal about the wave in sailor chic for spring fashions and linked the trend to the 2009 movie Coco before Chanel featuring Audrey Tautou. She wrote:

"A popular film and several recent books about Coco Chanel have everything to do with the mariniere revival. When the French-language film "Coco Before Chanel" debuted in April 2009, it helped ignite new interest in the designer's 60 year career and habit of adapting menswear to her own devices. The marieniere is so closely connected with Ms. Chanel that its use in fashion is often attributed to her. The actress Audrey Tautou wore a mariniere in her role as Ms. Chanel."

In art as in fashion, it is sometimes difficult to pin down the source of a movement or a trend. But I had to wonder whether it really was the movie that inspired Jean Paul Gaultier, Riccardo Tisci, Michael Bastien, Proenza Schouler to design marine-inspired looks for spring 2010. And the reason that I ask that question is because there was a show called Les Marins Font La Mode (Sailor Chic) at the Musee National de la Marine last spring in Paris. I had the good fortune to walk through with the commissaire Delphine Allannic-Costa and learned a great deal from her. 

The show began with a display of marine uniforms and ended with a spectacular display of contemporary haute couture fashions that incorporated the sailor theme(including Givenchy, Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Kenzo). In between, the exhibition traced the history of sailor chic in fashion back as far as the 19th Century, years before Chanel was even born. In Victorian times,  anchor embroidery, striped designs, navy-inspired hats, and Sunday sailor outfits for rowing on the Seine were popular. As well, Queen Victoria had navy outfits made for her children, a trend which was then adopted across Europe. And while Chanel may have drawn on the marine influence in her Deauville creations, it is a myth that she alone inspired sailor chic.

Having seen the exhibition Les Marins Font La Mode in Paris last spring, I would speculate that the sailor chic trend for spring is more likely to have come from this incredible show. After all, the exhibition was three years in the making and many of the designers who lent outfits to the show would have known about it and perhaps seen the show themselves. What do you think?