In 1932, Mademoiselle Coco Chanel presented a little-known exclusive collection in Mayfair’s historic Grosvenor Square over a fortnight. The collection, comprised of 130 garments, was surprisingly made solely from British textiles.

It came shortly after Coco had founded British Chanel Ltd, a short-lived venture, lasting only a year, that saw several textile manufacturers work alongside the brand to bring British women the best of Chanel’s pioneering designs. The press applauded: “Paris has shown us how to wear British” and the show attracted royalty and society women alike. This whisper of fashion history and more broadly Coco Chanel’s relationship with Britain is a tale rarely told, but this autumn the Victoria & Albert museum is shedding light on this love affair for the first time in a new retrospective.

The first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of the French couturière, ‘Gabrielle Chanel, Fashion Manifesto’ charts the 60-year evolution of Coco’s unique design style and the establishment of the House of Chanel. Brought together in partnership with Palais Galliera, the exhibition reimagines and expands on the acclaimed 2021 opening in the birthplace of Chanel in Paris – welcoming 122 new pieces; some never-before-seen.

Featuring over 200 looks in total, the exhibition is set to open with one of the oldest surviving Chanel garments, the Mariniere Blouse cut from fine-gauge silk jersey and dating back to 1916. The use of this practical fabric, back then mostly used for underwear and stockings, set the tone for what Coco Chanel would go on to achieve. With collared details inspired by that of fishermen's pullovers, the iconic blouse was a symbol of Chanel’s desire to merge functionality and chic, masculine and feminine.

Other standouts in the exhibition will be a section dedicated to the iconic fragrance Chanel No.5, which celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 2021, as well as the inclusion of a series of shimmering Chanel costume jewels. Adorned with pearls, camelia blooms, gemstones and interlocking CCs in abundance, from the 1920s onwards, Chanel shunned conventions of fine jewels and took costume jewellery to new heights. Made in collaboration with the likes of Goosens and Gripoix, these unique pieces have rarely been exhibited.

“The exhibition showcases the period right up until her final collection in spring / summer 1971, when Gabrielle Chanel reinterpreted, updated and perfected her design codes to continuously refine her quintessential style,” says curator Oriole Cullen.

Previous fashion retrospectives in the hallowed halls of the V&A have been widely successful. In 2019, the gallery honoured Parisian pioneer Christian Dior with a glimmering exhibit that traced the legacy of the couturière, and catapulted audiences into the contemporary world of Dior – think Maria Grazia Chiuri’s ‘We should all be feminist’ t-shirts; the daring designs of artisan John Galliano in the 1990s and early 2000s and Raf Simons whimsical vision for the heritage house. While 2015’s Savage Beauty, a homage to the late Lee Alexander McQueen, offered an emotional and compelling insight into the rise (and fall) of one of this generation's most exceptional designers; each room rooted in the retelling of McQueen's deeply poetic inspirations.

We can expect the momentous opening of ‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’, to continue this unparalleled understanding of the tastemakers that have shaped the way we dress today. Offering new perspectives on fashion and style and answering the questions of why we wear what we wear.

The exhibition opens on Saturday, 16 September and tickets go on sale in June. Find out more at

By Augustine Hammond