what is it about the couture cardigan jacket, anyway?

i am pretty sure old coco knew what she was doing when she created her iconic cardigan jackets back in the day, given that her entire career was based on dressing the way she wanted to dress and letting people see how brilliant an idea it was.

and yet…what is it about the jacket that still holds so much power over us today?

when you get down to it, it’s basically the most boring garment in the history of garments.  princess seams and a boxy cut:  the end.  so why spend either time (70+ hours) or money ($6,000 – $25,000) on it?

and yet….and yet…

there is an undeniable elegance in the simplicity of it.

i often find myself discussing this with fellow sewasauri when we have the chance to meet up.  whether it is arguing with my anonymous co-seamster who just doesn’t see the appeal or debating the merits of different techniques with fellow-travelers who are intrigued and want to try one, it seems that most of us have an opinion on the iconic garment.

i have to admit that for me, it was fascination by way of repulsion.  i just did.  not.  get.  it.  it was, for me, the ultimate garment of the ladies-who-lunch, or, worse yet, the upper-caste new yorkers gathered at charity and political events i have to attend for my job.  a status symbol only:  look at how awesome i am, (and yet, how much a part of the crowd!) and move on.

i think the first glimmer of interest happened for me when i realized that it’s also a kind of cool sewing status symbol:  something to aspire to that was about what kind of skills i could develop instead of a socio-economic identifier.  and then, as i do, i began researching endlessly, looking for photographs and re-reading the go chanel or go home jacket sew-along and hunting down the elusive threads article penned by susan khalje.  and finally i began to see the jacket as something else entirely:  a near-perfect blank canvas that goes with anything and can be almost anything, while still being the ultimate wardrobe staple.

i mean, as uniforms go, a chanel jacket, a pair of jeans, a comfy T and a good pair of shoes is about as awesome as it gets.

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  1. making one of these properly, into something that will look and feel luxe and rich, is a huge investment in both time and money.  caveat emptor.  this is one of those projects that if you are going to do it right, then do it right, and splurge on those materials.  even as i’m dabbling in the so-called shortcut method, i was reminded at every turn why the “right” way is actually the right way.  there is a difference in the end result.
  2. embrace the basic bones of the pattern, and then do it your own way anyway – short, long, cropped, fitted, oversized, collared – because the point of making one is to make it your own.  experiment with trims, buttons, and linings.
  3. have good tools.  try japanese hand needles and japanese basting thread.  it actually makes a difference!
  4. have a fitting buddy.  maybe you can’t splurge on the time and cost of a 6-day class, but the important bits of the construction technique are well-explained in susan’s threads article.  enlist a friend and help each other to get as good a fit as you can…and learn something about fitting in the process.
  5. don’t wait for a “special occasion.”  don’t be afraid to wear it with jeans…shorts…sandals…or black tie.  make it something you love so that the time and money are worth it.

so that is my take, just to wrap up my endless chanel-inspired recaps.  i will continue with loads of work-in-progress updates and, obviously, cat photos.  because even the cat was desperate to understand the tricky task of sleeve insertion.

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21 Responses to what is it about the couture cardigan jacket, anyway?

  1. poppykettle says:

    hear hear – very well said.

    • puu says:

      thanks! :-) obviously i have had many hours to think on it, recently…

      • poppykettle says:

        Many, many hours. I’m kinda with you on the whole fascination by repulsion thing. But me wanting one? (I’m doing her class in late september this year) I’ve realised that I want one because I’m a skill junkie. I want to know. The jacket just happens to be a byproduct of that desperate need to absorb everything related to sewing. And even better if I end up with something comfy and pretty to wear!

      • puu says:

        I think you will be pleased at both the caliber of work required and with your finished product.

        And the process of making your design choices – for me, at least – really solidified the fascination.

        Sent from my iPhone

  2. gingermakes says:

    OK. I’ll admit it– I don’t really get the Chanel jacket! I so admire the jackets that you guys make, but I can’t imagine making (or worse, BUYING) one! I don’t like boxy cuts and they’re just not my style. But I appreciate the techniques that go into making one and it’s so fun to see the fabrics that you, especially, choose. Annnnnnd I kinda have a red-hot girl crush on Alexa Chung, so now I’m a little more tempted to try one, against my better judgement…

  3. Thank you ever so much for writing this! I’m in the perplexed-by-Chanel-jackets camp, and while I figured that someone I like so much (you) wouldn’t go totally bonkers about a jacket if there wasn’t something about it, well, I just didn’t get it. I’ve been doing some research of my own and feel a little bit less underwhelmed by the idea, but it’s still going to be a long time before I ever make one of my own. I’m definitely intrigued by yours, though.

    • puu says:

      i know exactly what you mean! even though i like making them, they still perplex me :-) it’s only when i am knee-deep in the process of making it uniquely mine that i feel true enthusiasm – and to me, that is the ultimate legacy of coco’s jacket. what is the point when everyone has one, vs. when it is genuinely a one-of-a-kind item?

  4. I have to say – having made one using the couture techniques – that the real magic is the way they *feel*, just sooooo comfortable and softly molded to ones body. More like wearing a sweater than a tailored jacket. And yes it is a uniform but man – it’s a uniform that always works in any environment formal or casual and it has been interpreted in many ways other than the classic boxy version.

  5. You nailed it: classic, comfortable, versatile, and you can pair it with just about anything. And it’s so comfortable!

  6. Rosie says:

    Great post! The hard work is so well worth it! Hi Indie!

  7. Clio says:

    Oooooh! I feel like I’ve been called out. Was “frumpy” the word I used or did I say “boxy” in an effort to be polite and not ostracize myself from other sewists? LOL. I totally get the sewing status symbol part of it – it’s like a marathon to a runner. And I totally appreciate how it’s made, especially after seeing Marina’s in person (wow! impressive!). If I found a fabric I liked – one that could be a bit more rock n roll – I might even get on board. Maybe. Although I might have to hot fix a flaming rhinestone skull to the back or something. (Would Susan cry if I did that?)

    • puu says:

      Actually one of my classmates made a jacket based on exactly that idea! It was stunning…I had jacket envy :-)

      Sent from my iPhone

  8. I am with you on the ‘repulsive’ side of it! But as I had to pick my own design and fabric and put something very personal to it, I came to a conclusion that this “little jacket” can transform into a big deal! I’ve been wearing my jacket almost every day for the last two weeks and I want to make more!

    • puu says:

      inna, your jacket is so special that it completely shows how unique and creative a project it can be. there is no other jacket like yours anywhere..when i finish mine i will probably want to wear it every day, too :-)

  9. I keep thinking that I’ve replied to this, but apparently my response only lived in my head. Of course.

    Anyway, I’m going to say something kind of awful. (Maybe this is why I never wrote this?) I used to love Chanel jackets generally, but was never enamored with the self-made versions that popped up on blogs. Then I realized that’s kind of the point of making your own jacket. It’s your style, fitted to your body, with the fabric and trim that you love. Its appeal doesn’t solely come from the fact that you get your Chanel merit badge after whipping one up, but rather in tossing your own interpretation into the ring and having it be distinct from the hundreds of iterations out there. I think it might speak to the larger appeal of sewing your own clothes.

    Also, I keep showing my cats photographs of Indy on a leash, trying to convince them that it’s actually rather dignified, and they won’t budge. He’s an inspiration to us all, that cat.

    • puu says:

      not wrong at all! actually totally right. i mean, i think we’ve all seen a version of a jacket where we look at it and say: ok, i really respect the effort…but that is not for me….and that is completely the point.
      regarding indy and his leash: i used to keep him on one when he was a little kitty, about 20 pounds ago, so i could take him on to campus with me. about 2 months ago, he decided that he was over being crated when we traveled and we went back to the leash – a dog leash, this time, since he is too fat for a cat-sized one. i am not sure “dignified” is a word he would use, although “inspiration” definitely is! :-)

  10. Pingback: WIP updates: little (or long) french jackets | puu's door of time

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