What to expect from the V&A’s blockbuster Chanel exhibition, ‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’

‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’ arrives at the V&A this September, spanning the French couturier’s career and enduring legacy – with the first tickets released today (23 March 2023)

First look at Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto at the V&A with mannequins wearing Chanel
A first preview of ‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’ at the V&A
(Image credit: Courtesy of the V&A)

This morning, London’s V&A museum has given a first glimpse of what to expect from its upcoming fashion exhibition ‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’, which will arrive at the London institution’s The Sainsbury Gallery in September 2023. 

Introduced by Tristram Hunt, the museum’s director, and curator Oriole Cullen at a special presentation in the V&A Creative Studio, it coincides with the release today (23 March 2023) of a limited number of tickets for the first few weeks of the exhibition, with further tickets available in June 2023. 

The latest in a slew of high-profile fashion exhibitions at the institution, which include blockbuster successes Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion and Dior: Designer of Dreams, it promises an exploration of the life and career of the pioneering French couturier Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel ‘[who] paved the way for a new elegance and continues to influence the way women dress today’. 

First look: ‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’ at the V&A

Gabrielle Chanel at 31 rue Cambon, Paris, 1937.

Gabrielle Chanel at 31 rue Cambon, Paris, 1937

(Image credit: Photo by Roger Schall, courtesy of the V&A)

The exhibition is based on ‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’, which ran at the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris from 1 October 2020 to 18 July 2021. The new iteration – taking place in a space designed by London-based Storey Studio – will have significant changes, with 122 new looks among those on display (several have been taken from the V&A’s own extensive fashion archive).

The exhibition will remain curated by Miren Arzalluz and Véronique Belloir, who were behind the original version at Palais Galliera, though adapted by the V&A’s own curatorial team. As such, a greater focus will be placed on Gabrielle Chanel’s links to Britain, particularly in her use of tweed and textile firms based in the UK. 

‘Gabrielle Chanel devoted her long life to creating, perfecting and promoting a new kind of elegance based on freedom of movement, a natural and casual pose, a subtle elegance that shuns all extravagances, a timeless style for a new kind of woman,’ says Arzalluz. ‘That was her fashion manifesto, and it’s never gone out of style.’

A Chanel suit on a mannequin on white background

Gabrielle Chanel suit, wool tweed, braid, silk and metal A/W 1964 © Chanel

(Image credit: Photography by Nicholas Alan Cope)

The exhibition in London will be split over ten parts, spanning the creation of Gabrielle Chanel’s first store on rue Cambon in Paris in 1910 to her final collection in 1971. The various rooms will capture different elements of her design legacy – from the emergence of her clean, fluid style to an exploration of the signature Chanel tweed suit, as well as dedicated sections on the introduction of Chanel No. 5 perfume (‘the invisible accessory’), costume jewellery, and the 2.55 quilted handbag and two-tone slingback shoes (‘two of the most enduring accessories in the world of fashion’). The exhibition will also explore the house’s return in 1954 after the Second World War, and Gabrielle Chanel’s diaphanous designs of the 1960s. 

Some of the highlights include the designer’s costumes for 1924 film Le Train Bleu, a rare silk jersey blouse from S/S 1916 (one of her earliest remaining pieces), and a suit ordered by actress Lauren Bacall in 1959. An original Chanel No. 5 bottle, from its launch in 1921, also features. 

An early illustrated advert for Chanel perfume

Lithograph of Chanel No.5 fragrance by Sem (Georges Gouarsat, dit) (1863-1934)

(Image credit: First published in The New York Times, 16 December 1924 © Paris Musées, Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris)

The exhibition is supported by the house of Chanel, which will also be the principal sponsor for ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York, which opens in May 2023. 

‘We are happy and honoured that the first exhibition dedicated to Gabrielle Chanel to be held in the UK will be presented at the V&A, one of the most prestigious museums in the world,’ says Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel SAS and president of Chanel Fashion. ‘Gabrielle Chanel was a legend in her own lifetime... this exhibition will analyse her contribution to fashion and her radical vision of style.’

‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, supported by Chanel, runs from 16 September 2023 – 25 February 2024. A first run of tickets is available now, with more being released in June. 


Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*, joining the team in 2022. Having previously been the digital features editor at AnOther and digital editor at 10 and 10 Men magazines, he has also contributed to titles including i-D, Dazed, 10 Magazine, Mr Porter’s The Journal and more, while also featuring in Dazed: 32 Years Confused: The Covers, published by Rizzoli. He is particularly interested in the moments when fashion intersects with other creative disciplines – notably art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and reporting from international fashion weeks. Across his career, he has interviewed the fashion industry’s leading figures, including Rick Owens, Pieter Mulier, Jonathan Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss and Manolo Blahnik.