First ever Chanel exhibition opens at the V&A — but tickets are sold out
Updated: Oct 20
She's a design icon, and her legacy is one of the world's biggest fashion houses. Now, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel has received the exhibition treatment.
In September 2023, the Victoria and Albert Museum opened the first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of the French designer. It charts the evolution of Coco Chanel's iconic design style and the establishment of the House of CHANEL, from the opening of her first millinery boutique in Paris in 1910 to the showing of her final collection in 1971.
Critics have reviewed the show hugely positively too, awarding the V&A's staging four and five stars. “Dazzling” is the Telegraph’s verdict for example.
But if you were hoping to see it, I'm afraid you're likely out of luck. All tickets have sold out.
What will visitors see at the V&A Chanel exhibition?
Titled Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, visitors who have already booked tickets get to explore over 200 looks which are seen together for the first time.
For many Chanel-lovers, the highlight will undoubtedly be the fifty ensembles of the iconic Chanel suit, the defining garment of Gabrielle Chanel’s post-war contribution to fashion. Described by American Vogue in September 1964 as “the world’s prettiest uniform,” it remains a staple reference in fashion. And it's one of the most instagram-friendly sections of the show too, with the ensembles shown in a range of colours and displayed across two levels. It's a feast for the eyes.
The Coco Chanel exhibition comes to London in partnership with the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, who first staged it in 2020. It also had a stint in Melbourne in 2021/22. The exhibition's run in the UK though is re-imagined by the V&A, with over 100 new objects including 60 new looks on show. Curator Oriole Cullen has said the team had “scoured international collections for never seen before pieces, some over 100 years old.”
Other key pieces on display include outfits created for British model Anne Gunning (later Lady Nutting) and Hollywood stars Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich. There's also jewellery, accessories, cosmetics and perfumes on show, all helping to explore Chanel’s pioneering approach to fashion design.
The exhibition features ten sections in total, all showcasing the exquisite skill and innovation from the founder of the House of CHANEL.
Sections include Towards A New Elegance which offers an introduction to the beginning of Gabrielle Chanel’s career as a milliner and opening her first boutique on the rue Cambon in Paris in 1910. It features one of the earliest surviving Chanel garments from 1916.
The Emergence of a Style focuses on how Chanel developed an immediately identifiable signature style in the 1920s and 1930s, The Invisible Accessory showcases the creation and impact of Gabrielle Chanel’s debut perfume N°5 which became the world’s best-selling fragrance, and Closing the House outlines the impact of the outbreak of war in 1939 on her personal and professional life.
A Timeless Allure – the exhibition finale — celebrates the evening dress as Chanel’s exercise in style. This section showcases that right up until her final collection of Spring-Summer 1971, Gabrielle Chanel reinterpreted, updated and perfected her rules and principles, continuously refining her quintessential style.
The V&A is the perfect home for the exhibition in London, as its fashion collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of dress in the world. V&A Director Tristram Hunt said the show gives them the opportunity "to to display little-known historic Chanel garments" from their collection. He added: "As one of the most successful fashion houses in existence, CHANEL owes much to the templates first laid down by its founder Gabrielle Chanel, over a century ago."
Bruno Pavlovsky, President of CHANEL’s Fashion and President of CHANEL SAS, said: “Gabrielle Chanel boldly redefined the modern women’s wardrobe. We are honored and delighted that the V&A, such a world leading museum and great institution, will stage the first UK retrospective of her work. By showcasing her contribution to the history of fashion as well as the incredible relevance and permanence of the Chanel style, this exhibition will highlight one of the greatest visionaries of our time.”
When are Chanel exhibition tickets available?
As expected, demand for this exhibition was huge. The bad news is that if you haven't booked your tickets for the show yet, you are too late. Tickets for the Chanel exhibition have all sold out. And they did so just four days into the exhibition's 123-day run.
The only way you can see it if you haven't already secured tickets is to become a V&A member. They go free and there's no need to book in advance. But our advice is do this sooner rather than later. If demand remains extremely high, it's likely the museum will pause accepting new members too.
It's no surprise the show has proved such a hit. The Chanel show follows a long line of very popular fashion exhibitions at the V&A. In fact the museum's most visited show ever is 2019's Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams which welcomed nearly 600,000 people through the door. And the second most visited? Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. Could this exhibition end up breaking both these records?
Chanel exhibition catalogue
If you've missed out on tickets — and becoming a member isn't an option — than the alternative is to buy the official accompanying catalogue. Produced by V&A Publishing specially for this iteration of the exhibition, there's 288 pages with 230 illustrations, including newly commissioned photographs and archival images which capture the design evolution of this fashion icon. It really is a must-buy for Chanel fans. Get your copy of the Gabrielle Chanel V&A catalogue, or discover 3 more Chanel books if you want to further deep-dive into her life.
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto runs from 16 September 2023 to 25 February 2024 at the V&A in London.
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— Find out what else is on at the V&A in 2023