Black & White: How Chanel got Rid of Colour

We were greatly honoured to be joined by Justine Picardie the Editor-in-Chief for both Harper’s Bazaar UK and Town & Country, for a discussion on the power of monochrome dressing.

The inimitable Justine took us on a fashion history journey, exploring the use of black and white and what it means to us, culturally and symbolically. The conversation was framed by the story of Gabrielle Chanel, who used black and white to build her legendary persona as well as her legendary brand.

We learnt that white was originally a colour of mourning, particularly in Eastern cultures, and that for Chanel it held a particular tragic significance. As a young child she watched her mother die and the body be taken away in a white sheet. Years spent in a Catholic convent, where the nuns also wore black habits with white caps and collars further marked the combination in her mind.

Over the many decades of her career, Chanel would use the stark combination to denote many moods. In the raucous twenties, when the heavy garb of the previous century was jubilantly cast aside, her Little Black Dress was a symbol of modernity. In the Great Depression of the thirties, her long white satin gowns stood for hope. Her famous suits – either in black bordered with white or white bordered in black – stand for pure elegance.

We heard how Chanel staged her comeback after WWII, about Karl Lagerfeld’s exceptional use of the Chanel archives in his current collections and discussed other designers who focus on the monochrome contrast. At the end, the audience and guest speaker debated whether black was a good colour for young women to wear, whether white was impossibly high maintenance for day to day, and how we perceive these colours now that they’re staples in every wardrobe.

We want to thank Justine for such an insightful talk, the venue, Maison Assouline who hosted us in sumptuous surroundings, and our wonderful audience for attending and participating.

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