Gabrielle Chanel holds an unparalleled place in fashion that can be difficult to encapsulate in words. Her influence on our world spans a century and undoubtedly many, many more years to come. We recently came across a slew of old photographs from her collections, and because we subscribe to the idea of pictures being worth a thousand words, we created a visual timeline to highlight not only the longevity of this storied fashion house but also how much it truly has evolved.
From the ’20s to the present, see below for a quick trip back in time!
Having opened her couture house at 31 Rue Cambon six years prior, Gabrielle Chanel established herself as a serious designer by the early ’20s. This photo was taken in 1924 for Vogue, featuring Madame Varda in a flapper-esque low-waist georgette crepe dress by the brand.
By the time 1926 rolls around, Gabrielle Chanel unveils a revolutionary design, which would come to be known as the iconic little black dress.
This 1934 Vogue photograph shows a shift in silhouette toward the two-piece suit look that remains a staple of the Chanel brand.
Gabrielle Chanel is considered “at the peak of her fame” during this period, with 4000 employees and five boutiques in Paris. This outfit, circa 1938, shows an evolution of the menswear influence, with a collared shirt and leaner shape.
The designer’s penchant for pearls and elaborate jewelry spilled into her designs. This photograph of Gabrielle Chanel, taken in Paris in 1944, exudes a film noir feel, which was popular during the time.
Due to World War II and changing attitudes toward fashion, she decided to close Chanel. We were unable to find photographs of women in her clothing during this time period.
Nineteen fifty-four marked the then 71-year-old Gabrielle Chanel’s return to fashion. She reopened the house, and the brand was included in Vogue showcasing a strapless rose-tiered dress.
In 1957, Chanel’s covetable two-tone shoes were introduced, ushering in a generation of footwear fanatics who remain to this day.
The skirt suit got a colorful update in a mauve-and-navy tweed.
The ’60s rang in an era of celebrity Chanel adoration. Big names like Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly wore the collections, among other notable members of society.
Even after Gabrielle Chanel’s death in 1971, her designs continued to push the needle. This 1975 runway look illustrated the matching set with a bold stripe and full-skirted silhouette.
Not until 1978 did the house of Chanel choose to launch its first ready to wear collection. The models shown in photo slightly hinted at the more exaggerated shoulders to come in the ’80s.
Boxy blazers worn with matching midlength skirts kept the Chanel vision alive. Oh, and so did a designer named Karl Lagerfeld, who was brought on as artistic director in 1983.
Model and Parisian Inès de la Fressange walked in the F/W 88 catwalk in a power skirt suit.
Zipping forward a few years, proportions became looser and more dramatic once the early ’90s hit, especially on supermodel Claudia Schiffer.
It doesn’t get much more ’90s than a beret, Naomi Campbell, and a bias-cut dress.
Karl Lagerfeld’s F/W 04 collection for Chanel highlighted masculine-meets-feminine themes, complete with newsboy caps—a particularly popular accessory during this time period.
Nostalgia started to creep into the collections at this time, but in a modernized way. This ’50s-inspired catwalk still felt fresh, with technical rainbow stripes, shredded gloves, and cool booties.
Look familiar? This design from the F/W 16 collection, though a departure from the drop-waist gown from the 1920s, still felt true to the Chanel spirit. And that’s the magic of this fashion house—the continuity lives on no matter what period of time you live in.
Sneakers you can wear with everything from a floral frock to tailored trousers.
Clip these on for an instant lift.
We love how a tee looks layered underneath this dress.
A statement jacket with unlimited potential.
Mini bags are the perfect day-to-night accessory.
Tuck a crisp white shirt into this maxi skirt.