Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘The Little Black Jacket’ Exhibition In Paris

An incredible exhibition honoring Chanel’s timeless “Petite Veste Noire,” or “Little Black Jacket,” was being held at the Grand Palais, one of Paris’ most famous landmarks, last week.

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The Little Black Jacket Paris

After its success in London, Sydney, New York and Tokyo, it is indeed Paris’ turn to host the tremendous exhibition.

The exhibit features hundreds of photographs taken from the recent publication, “The Little Black Jacket : A Chanel Classic revisited by Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld.”

With the book as well as with the exhibition, the collaborative duo celebrate The Little Black Jacket which was created close to 50 years ago.

In reference to the fashion staple, a consistent favorite for years, Karl Lagerfeld was quoted saying : “Every designer dreams of inventing the Chanel jacket. It’s up there with jeans or the T-shirt; it is gender neutral—that is to say, it can be womenswear or menswear.”

Lagerfeld’s project exuded creativity: at the core of the exhibition are hundreds of black and white portraits of various male and female celebrities and icons sporting the Little Black Jacket in the most diverse ways.

The story of this jacket goes beyond clothing and fashion; with his stunning photographs, Lagerfeld demonstrates how this iconic piece is the symbol of elegance, of nonchalance and class. Emblazoning one of the walls of the exhibition, a quote by Roberto Juarroz reads, “There are clothes which keep rejuvenating themselves instead of getting worn out.” Indeed, the photographs show how the Little Black Jacket is a truly timeless piece, by virtue of belonging to different times and eras.

In order to illustrate how the jacket crosses boundaries and goes beyond generations, Lagerfeld’s choice of models is eclectic, a true melting pot of origins, ages and nationalities, all unified  by the same Chanel piece.

The celebrities that are captured on film include notable and expected personalities such as Anna Wintour- taken from behind with the jacket perched on her shoulders- Alexa Chung, Tilda Swindon and Vanessa Paradis.

Other celebrities that are immortalized include Kanye West, Georgia May Jagger, Liya Kebede and Daphne Guinness. A series of black and white pictures of Yoko Ono is arranged on one of the walls, next to a small screen on which she can be seen dancing in a short film.

On the wall opposite to the black and white photographs is a series of large, highly saturated pictures. Out of these, one that particularly stands out is the photograph of Kirsten Dunst : the actress is shown wearing a leopard print brassiere, a high-waisted skirt and the iconic jacket loosely on one shoulder, creating an effortless yet utterly fashionable look.

To add more color to the exhibition, Lagerfeld transformed several photographs into what he dubbed “Fire Engravings,” a highly saturated series of large format works on display in another room, especially for the Paris exhibit.

Sometimes torn, sometimes covered in safety pins, the Little Black Jacket was metaphorically de-constructed in all sorts of ways. In many instances, Lagerfeld skillfully managed to render sex appeal classy and to make dishevelled looks look highly elegant, as he did with model Aymeline Valade’s breathtaking portrait.

Without over-conceptualizing his photographs, Lagerfeld allowed for each model’s complexity and individuality to shine through. Some portraits are exquisite in their sobriety, others are amazingly irreverent, but all are powerful. The fact that so many of the photographs are monochromatic adds to the enduring artistic quality which Lagerfeld and Roitfeld were so eager to portray. Much like The Little Black Jacket, the stunning portraits are immemorial. Beyond a hommage, the exhibition was a demystification of this incredible piece.

With Carine Roitfeld’s help, Karl Lagerfeld achieved something great: he demonstrated the universality of the classic statement piece, one that is both timeless and contemporary.

Tatiana Kombo

Tatiana is a Paris-based and Boston-educated freelance writer and avid fashion photographer who is passionate about public relations and global communications. Her interests include social activism and the intersections of fashion and feminism. You can follow her here: twitter.com/tatianakombo