When is a Chanel jacket not a Chanel jacket? When it is a collarless jacket in a ladylike pastel tweed, with a boxy shape accentuated by shiny gold buttons on four patch pockets – but the label says Mango. Or when it is an unstructured hip-length textured blazer in a soft-focus check, with pearl-effect buttons – but it’s £59.99 at Zara.
The soft tweed jacket that Coco Chanel made famous has become a bread-and-butter look for fashion retailers all over the world. Not that the Chanel name is openly invoked, of course. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but lawyers are immune to sweet talk, so the name is absent from other retailers’ descriptions of their nubbly blazers with fancy buttons. (By the way, it is not just high street copies Chanel is offended by: Saint Laurent’s tweed-suit-based catwalk show last year sparked a public row, with Chanel calling Saint Laurent a “parasite” – although the two have since issued a joint statement condemning plagiarism.)
The jacket is a victim of its own success. Created in 1954, it is now instantly recognisable – no need for logo or monogram. Spot a certain type of jacket in the wild, and the name Chanel will pop into your head long before you’re close enough to tell whether the buttons are embossed with interlocking Cs. The basic grammar of the look – textured woven surface, perhaps with a metallic thread; statement buttons; supple, cardigan softness – is clearly legible.
This is a chameleon piece that can play tough or sweet, happy or serious. Keira Knightley got married in an ivory one; Jackie Onassis wore a black one, with matching gloves, to the funeral of Cardinal Cushing. Kate Moss wears hers to the pub, with jeans; Amal Clooney wears hers to court.
And while it has never gone out of style, the jacket works particularly well with clothes you may be drawn to in 2022. A soft, boxy jacket makes this season’s miniskirt feel wearable and grown-up. It adds instant polish to a pair of vintage jeans. And for holidays, a jacket that is instantly fancy but as comfortable as a sweater comes into its own. (Rihanna has been known to pair a Chanel jacket with trackie bottoms for flying.)
Rarely has a garment so chic been so comfy. Coco herself used to have her showroom models cross their arms and rest each hand on the opposite shoulder while wearing the jacket, to be sure the cut allowed them to move freely. But it has a je ne sais quoi that prompts lavish politeness in shop assistants. Tweed is warm but breathable, so takes the edge off a cool day but you won’t overheat if the sun comes out. The boneless shape makes it light to carry, and crease-proof.
Should you be wondering – yes, a real Chanel jacket is most definitely superior to a mass-produced lookalike. The unstructured softness that gives such an air of nonchalance is achieved by careful, if invisible, construction. A metal chain is sewn into the hem of a Chanel jacket to add weight and help it drop neatly and evenly, rather than sagging. The bouclé tweed of the real thing is twisted and looped so the surface stays in good condition for years; cheaper fabric will snag and fray.
For the lucky few who can afford one, a Chanel jacket is a decent financial investment, with high resale prices that reflect how good these jackets look even after years of wear – and the fact that those who own one will probably be minded to keep it for ever. The real thing is the dream. But the good news is that even if yours is the kind where the “Chanel” is silent, it is still a fashion classic.
Hair and make up: Sophie Higginson using itcosmetics. Model: Lydia at Body London. Jacket: River Island. Blouse: Veronica Beard. Jeans: Levi’s. Earrings: Dinny Hall