In the '60s, Coco sprang no surprises, only refinements on what was her classic look: the short, straight, collarless jacket, the slightly flaring skirt and hems that never budged from knee length. Wearing the broad-brimmed Breton hat that was her hallmark, her scissors hanging from a ribbon around her neck, and her four fingers held firmly together in spite of severe arthritis, she would feel for defects. Working directly on the model, she often picked a apart with the point of her scissors, complaining that it was unwearable.
Her fashion empire at her death brought in over $160 million a year. Here clients constituted a litany of the best-dressed women, not of the year but of the century: Princess Grace, Queen Fabiola, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, all the Rothschilds and most of the Rockefellers. A musical version of her life, enhanced by Katharine Hepburn but stripped of most of the real drama, put Coco on Broadway. She was on a first-name basis with people too famous to need first names: Cocteau, Colette, Diaghilev, Dali, Picasso. Yet at the time of her death, the woman Picasso termed "the most sensible in the world" had a Paris wardrobe consisting of only three outfits.
"If Mademoiselle Chanel has reigned over fashion," mused Jean Cocteau, "it is not because she cut women's hair married silk and wool, put pearls on sweaters, avoided poetic labels on her perfumes, lowered the waistline or raised the waistline and obliged women to follow her directives; it is because--outside of this gracious and robust dictatorship--there is nothing in her era that she has missed."
The House of Chanel in Paris, under Karl Lagerfeld, remains one of the top design houses today.
Karl Lagerfeld 卡尔·拉格菲尔德
For more than a decade after Chanel's death, the house languished, with a reverent design team producing couture clothes—and introducing ready-to-wear for the first time—in Mademoiselle's dowdiest image. This all changed in 1982, when owner Alain Wertheimer (whose grandfather and great-uncle acquired the rights to Parfums Chanel in 1924, and, later, the world of Chanel in 1954) finally persuaded Karl Lagerfeld to assume the mantle. Lagerfeld had trained chez Balmain in the glory years of the haute couture and was later the designer at the house that bore the name of Chanel's hated rival Jean Patou (and whose workrooms still guarded the secrets of antebellum dressmaking). But it was his work for the ready-to-wear house of Chloé that sealed his reputation; with a Chanel-ish instinct for timing, Lagerfeld realized that fashion news in the sixties and seventies lay in the ready-to-wear and not the increasingly moribund couture. "Karl's vigorous, ironic, and knowing modernity," wrote Kennedy Fraser for a 2004 Vogue profile, "made him just right to colonize the legend of Mademoiselle." Where Chanel's clothes are subtle, Lagerfeld's are emphatic; where hers are forgiving, Lagerfeld's are demanding. Chanel reviled fashion; Lagerfeld rejoices in it, creates it—and often leads it. "There is a kind of hyperbolic quality to Karl's pieces," says Koda, "but in her day, Chanel was probably just as shocking, taking the materials of service clothing and using it for clothing for a woman of privilege. But times have changed, so it has to be a more vivid transgression—you have to push the boundaries more."