Creators of the Exceptional: Celebrating UK textiles and Chanel at the V&A
UK textiles and fashion SMEs were in the spotlight as part of the new Coco Chanel exhibition ‘Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto’ at the V&A Museum in South Kensington, London on 25 September.
The event highlighted the designer’s British inspirations, including her adoption of UK-made textiles into her creations. Creators of the Exceptional was organised by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), the V&A and UKFT.
UKFT’s Paul Alger MBE took part in a panel discussion alongside Greg Rorison from Johnstons of Elgin, Mark Hogarth from Harris Tweed Hebrides and Sarah Thornley from Stephen Walters and Sudbury Silk Mills, chaired by Kirsty McGregor from Vogue Business.
The event was opened by Rupert Daniels from DBT and V&A Director Dr Tristram Hunt, while novelist and fashion writer Justine Picardie gave a speech and Lord Johnson, Minister for Investment at DBT, closed the evening.
Creators of the Exceptional featured a showcase of fabrics and finished garments from a wide range of UK textile mills and manufacturers including Moon, Harris Tweed, Johnstons of Elgin, Maison Henry Bertrand, Holland & Sherry, Araminta Campbell and Richard James.
Paul Alger MBE, UKFT’s Director of International Business, said: “Chanel’s history of collaboration with UK textile manufacturers is a testament to the long-standing relationship between British creativity and skill and global fashion. From sourcing cloth in the 1920s to establishing British Chanel Ltd, Coco Chanel understood the unparalleled quality of UK textiles. This legacy lives on today as we continue to see the fruits of such partnerships.
“This event not only showcases the rich heritage of UK textiles but also pays tribute to the unsung heroes of our industry – the knitters, weavers, seamstresses, product developers, textile technicians, innovators and skilled artisans who operate behind the scenes yet play an instrumental role in shaping the global luxury fashion landscape. UK textile and knitting manufacturers craft fabrics that grace the runways of global luxury houses. Their work is a testament to British craftsmanship and I’m delighted that we recognise their vital contribution.”
Chanel has a long history of working with UK textile manufacturers, having started sourcing cloth from the UK since the early 1920s. In 1927 she opened a salon in London to offer garments tailored specifically to the British market. After visiting the British Industries Fair in 1932 and being so impressed with the quality of fabrics on display, she established British Chanel Ltd, to work directly with UK textile manufacturers.
Through this company, she provided designs made to her specifications and the companies then could market the fabrics as a Chanel collaboration. The same year, Chanel organised a fashion show of 130 designs made of British textiles at 39 Grosvenor Square and established Chanel Broadhead Fabrics Ltd with its own mill at Kirkheaton near Huddersfield.
Other UK manufacturers Chanel worked with included Ellaness knitwear (Lyle & Scott) and David Moseley rainwear.
Chanel has a long relationship with Linton Tweeds in Cumbria from the mid 1920s. She worked directly with William Linton, experimenting in producing bespoke tweeds with a beautiful handle and drape that brought her designs to life.
More recently in 2012, Scottish cashmere knitwear manufacturer Barrie joined the prestigious circle of the Chanel Métiers d’Art houses. Chanel was a long-standing client of Barrie and two years after acquiring the firm, Barrie launched its own label to showcase its heritage and craftsmanship.
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