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Chanel was established in 1913 and is legendary in so many ways, not just for the instantly recognisable logo but for their perfume Chanel No. 5 (invented in 1921), being the only thing Marilyn Monroe wore to bed, for owning the LBD and for the softly structured tweed suit and quilted leather handbag now known as the 2.55. Today, the brand is synonymous with both its founder, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel and its artistic director since 1983, Karl Lagerfeld. Chanel herself – who was born in an orphanage and was self-taught – is perhaps the most important designer of the 20th century. Her pioneering use of sportswear for high fashion in the 20s, her little black dresses, her costume jewellery, taste for suntanning and appropriation of male dress are the stuff of fashion legend. When she died in 1971 she left a rich legacy of house codes which are today boldly reinvented by Karl Lagerfeld. Mademoiselle’s favourite pearls turn up, outsized, as little evening bags; tweed is transformed into fluffy leggings and matching berets; a love of sporty, outdoors life is expressed via Chanel-branded snowboards and surfboards. Chanel is today nothing if not a commercial powerhouse and in December 2004 the company opened a multi-floored new store in the Ginza shopping district of Tokyo that includes a restaurant, Beige Tokyo, and a glassy façade fitted with twinkling lights that resemble the brand’s famous tweed. Despite its grand heritage, what Coco and Karl have in common above all is relish for the present times and for the future, as Chanel herself once said, “I am neither in the past nor avant-garde. My style follows life.”


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