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Déjà vu - Chanel and Tortue!

by Nina Butler 20 Mar 2024 0 Comments

“you can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life”


Coco Chanel


*** be warned – this is a slightly longer read than normal so best to grab a cuppa!***



Recently I decided on a bit of a whim (the night before to be exact) that I was going to hop on the train for the 4 hours+ journey to London to see an exhibition at the V&A! A bit crazy? Yes! But sooooo worth it!

I had planned to see the Gabrielle Chanel exhibition back in December but my plans were scuppered by a cancelled flight and then not having another opportunity to see it due to family commitments. I’m the kind of person who tries not to have regrets and I knew that if I didn’t find a way to get to the V&A for this exhibition I would probably regret it so off I popped for a solo adventure day in the big smoke!

On the basis I was going to see Chanel I thought I would start off as I meant to go on and took advantage of the weekend upgrade to first class on the train …. and all the snacks and coffee that went with it! Actually – I think I grazed all the way to London!!!!

The exhibition had been on for a while but there was still a massive queue at the V&A - I think I queued for about an hour before eventually entering the exhibition but wow was it worth it!.

Prior to this, I had always thought that the designer labels with their sky high prices are really just a label that you are paying for in the main – yes some fabrics will be premium, and some styles that are different but I had thought that it was probably the price of the name on the label. It may be true of some modern day designers but oh my goodness was I wrong when it comes to Chanel!!! The exhibition literally blew me away! Even though the garments were in display cases it was extremely clear to see the level of craftsmanship that had gone into them. Not just the shapes of the designs, but the fabrics, the amount of work in the stitching – handmade couture stitched to a high standard where you can clearly see the training the seamstress must have had! It was just exquisite and I can only imagine the hours of work that had gone into producing those haute couture garments it really was incredible to see!

Haute couture means that items are made for a private client, exactly to their measurements with one or more fittings. The garment usually being made in a toile fabric first before being created from the actual fabric of the finished piece and then final fittings before it is ready to wear. (In my head I was seeing that scene from Cruella where she was sat in the workroom late at night handsewing all the “beads” that were actually moth chrysalis onto the dress!).

As I wandered through the exhibition (well more like crowd surfed as it was so busy) I was noticing more and more things that looked familiar. Little details that are featured in our Tortue designs today that I hadn’t realised were influenced by the designs of Chanel.

Chanel was known for making clothes that women loved to wear and would feel at ease in. Comfortable simple styles but still truly timeless elegance – a bit like our Tortue collection where comfort is key as well as clothes that get you compliments!

There were also influences behind Chanel’s designs and little stories behind why certain things are the way they are in her designs – again just like our Tortue pieces that we love to tell you all about at your Personal Style sessions.

Chanel grew up in an orphanage where she was taught to sew. She was influenced by the clothing of the Nuns and liked a black/white combination for her designs. Initially starting as a Milliner in 1909 producing more pared back versions of hats than the elaborate hats of the early 20th century and her success allowed her to expand her business into clothing which is where things really took off!

That black and white monochrome look is a huge part of our summer collection and especially influenced in our gorgeous Chic Linen Jacket with faux leather black patch pockets.

Chanel holidayed in Deauville where she was influenced by the sporty clothes and sailor suits worn by men. These were the influence for her creations of ‘beach pyjamas’ and ‘yachting pants’ which were basically trousers with fitted hips but wide legs. All these styles have longevity and are features of our collections today from our Nautical Jacket with embroidered stitching, gold luxe Sporty Chic Trousers and our Wide Leg cappuccino coloured trousers with asymmetric button details that I spotted in one of Chanel’s designs on display too!



Chanel’s love interest (Arthur “boy” Capel) died in 1919 and whilst grief stricken, her friends took her to Venice. The lion is a symbol of Venice which is why she uses metal buttons featuring a lion motif in many of her classic Chanel Tweed suit jackets – even in her designs created well into the 1960’s.

Buttons were clearly important to her as a detail not to be overlooked, she often created her own buttons moulded from plastic in designs to replicate the textures of her fabrics used in the designs of her classic Chanel skirt suits or fabric covered buttons to match the fabric of her blouses. She also liked pearl jewellery so often used pearl buttons on her pieces too!

During the 20’s Chanel favoured black in particular as the ideal background for her distinctive embroidery on her garments.

From the 1920’s she recast black as a stylish wardrobe option freeing it for her clients to wear from its previous associations with maids, shop assistants and mourning dress. She promoted black as a symbol of modernity, stripping it back with simple lines creating the “Little Black Dress” that is a wardrobe staple for everyone even to this day!

Chanel expertly took details and pared them back in a garment – her frills were gathered slightly, folds were barely sketched and swathes of fabric were light and floating. 

Layers of stitching as decorative details were often placed around collar, hems or sleeve cuffs just like the embroidered stitching on the cuffs of our Embroidered Blouse today Chanel often added little pin tuck detailing to streamline garments maintaining a delicate balance between ornament and simplicity. At times the stitched detail would be focused only on the cuffs collar or hem. Sometimes almost the entire surface of the creation was covered.

Our floral Ruffled Front Flower Shirt, Striped Blouse With Sequin chevron design details and embroidered cuff shirt are great examples of these influences elevating the design of the basic shirt without being over the top.

Chanel used contrasting directional placement of sequins to create impact in her designs – maybe this has inspired the chevron design pattern of the sequins in our stripy shirt?

Chanel also favoured the use of a little elastic in the cuffs of the sleeves of her blouses so that they could be pushed up to hold in place and create volume with a blouson effect – another design trick featured in some of our blouses too.



Some Chanel blouses were made entirely of hand sewn lines of tuck stitching often featuring 18 rows of tiny tuck pleats from neckline to waistline. Maybe this was the influence behind the middle panel on our new Summer Collection Pleated Top? It features the Chanel inspired black and white colour palette, luxurious chiffon crepe for pared back luxury and more than 30 intricate pleats from a lightweight voile type fabric across the front for “wow” factor without weight which our customers are loving and we predict will be a sell out!



Some Chanel blouses also featured hand made lace panels and often had ruffles that were versatile and not stitched flat into the garment so that they could be worn either

under or over the lapel. This versatility of being able to wear a garment in different ways remains true to our collection today, our Striped Off The Shoulder Jumper is a fab example of this – effectively being two jumpers in one!



Maybe Chanel’s use of lace at necklines was an influence in the design of our Satin Maxi Dress With Lace Neckline? Chanel liked pared back luxury and so our use of macrame style lace rather than handmade traditional lace in this instance could be seen as another nod to this fabulous legend of a designer too!



In 1926 American Vogue declared Chanel’s crepe de Chine day dress a new type of uniform for all women and she became known as the “Ford” of Fashion her little black dress which was a global hit.


For summer we have taken this “LBD” classic and reproduced it in midnight blue with jewellery sewn into the neckline. For her day suits Chanel preferred maximum layers of costume jewellery often large and sometimes loud in their designs too. Our dress features a stunning black cabouchon and metal necklace adding a touch of glamour to the classic round neckline that can easily take you from daytime dressing to evening wear which was an exciting new concept that Chanel championed.


Textiles played a huge role in Chanel’s career where she made her name in fashion through the surprising transformation of functional jersey type fabrics into sought after haute couture garments.


She continued to innovate and seek out high quality fabrics throughout her life from international suppliers as well as designing and manufacturing her own range. She liked to use Cloque fabric which gives a blistered effect to the fabric – not just a flat fabric but

more architectural and sculptured in design. A great example of this in our collection today is our leopard jacket crafted from leopard jacquard fabric that is textured and comfortable … as well as warm too!! Totally following Chanel’s lead of the looseness of the jacket with the softness of the fabric to ensure comfort for the wearer.


In1928 Chanel invested in a textile factory at Asnieres and later another at Maretz in Northern France. After the 2nd World War her factories would go on to supply other haute couturiers such as Dior and Balenciaga and Chanel evening wear always used beautiful fabrics.

The V&A has several videos on their website showcasing classic Chanel garments, one of which features a Trouser Suit from 1937/38 in a sequin design created for Diana Vreeland who was the Fashion Editor of Harpers Bazaar at the time. This would have been ground breaking as women at that time would have been wearing dresses and not trousers as ‘the norm’ so would have been stunning and really stood out from the crowd.

The suit was made from black chiffon completely covered with sequins in neat rows all hand stitched using a chain stitch and interior seams finished by hand with no raw edges. I really recommend watching the short video and you will totally see why these garments are just incredible!

Chanel experimented with asymmetry, volume, uneven lengths and a daring transparency inspired by lingerie but never to excess. Seams often tapered down from waist to hem to draw the eye down for a slimming effect a feature which is often seen in our Tortue collections and sometimes used in the form of a grosgrain strip like that featured on our new Summer Collection Checked Trousers again following the black and white Chanel influence in a Gingham check.


The new Summer Collection Asymmetric Dress, and our Black Lace Asymmetric cut top with “join” seams strategically placed to draw the eye to the places you want to emphasize and avoid those that you don’t can also be seen to follow Chanel’s pioneering lead in designs from the past that are just as much at home in the world we live in today.



Chanel was very particular about the fit of the sleeves in her garments and frequently made them at not quite full length so that her clients could wear gloves easily beneath. Again, many of our longer sleeved pieces throughout the seasons often follow this cut but today when it is used on a jacket it is so that you can show the detailing of the cuffs on the shirt worn below it instead.

Chanel also created garments where the back neckline was different to that at the front and the use of lingerie straps inside on the shoulders of garments to hide and hold in place bra straps which is a feature we have used in our layered tops of past seasons. We often have blouses and knitwear in our collections with a V neck one side and round neck the other, or different lengths of V necklines so that you can wear either way around. A classic example of this now is our stunning Flower Print Jumper which can be worn either way around and is eco designed from a viscose and cotton blend for luxurious comfort.



Complex techniques underlie the appearance of simplicity. The more boxy and simplistic the design then generally the more work goes into it to get it to hang just right. A classic feature of the traditional Chanel style suit jacket features a gilt chain stitched onto the bottom of the hem on the inside of the jacket at the back to add weight and ensure that it hangs straight. Its an interesting thought that what looks like the easiest or most straightforward garment to produce can actually involve more work than some other seemingly more intricate pieces in the Chanel collections. 

Did you know that the back of every Chanel label features a number which is unique? This number can be cross referenced to records at Chanel that record who it was made for, in which season and “the look” of the time. 

Overall the Chanel pieces on display clearly demonstrate easy to wear timeless elegance which is also a mainstay of our Tortue designs too! I wonder if our Tortue Design Team are distant relatives of Chanel???


I’m off to dream about one day owning my own haute couture made to measure piece by Chanel …. a bit like the film “Mrs Harris Goes To Paris!”


Au revoir!


Angela x

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