Timeless: The Classic French Jacket

So much has been written and illustrated about Coco Chanel’s classic cardigan jacket, it is difficult to imagine more can be said, but that won’t keep me from trying. Of course, only Chanel is Chanel, and that fashion house rightly owns the claim to the mystique and allure of its trademark design. However, interpretations of that classic French jacket – and those who are making them – have added to the jacket’s lexicon over the years. In many ways, I think the advanced (in skill level, not age) sewing community has been instrumental in adding a whole new dimension to the way we look at the jacket and then personalize it.

Interest by home dressmakers in the classic Chanel jacket has been evident for decades. This Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1962 is a prime example. To quote precisely, the caption for the cover says: “the new after-dark dazzle involves a certain amount of alchemy. Take a clean-lined suit design (shades of Chanel) and make it shimmer: a springy white suit wool scored with gold metallic and red braid…”

The June/July 1989 issue of Threads Magazine has one of the most iconic covers ever, described above the masthead as “Inside a Chanel jacket.” The extensive article by Claire Shaeffer covers the history of the jacket, idiosyncrasies of its construction and tips for the home dressmaker wishing to make her own Chanel-inspired jacket.

In more recent years, books and instructions for making the classic French jacket have been joined by classes, most notably on Craftsy and by couture teachers such as Susan Khalje, who, in my opinion, teaches the purest jacket construction interpretation available to the sewing community. If you are unable to attend one of her Classic French Jacket classes, then by all means, subscribe to her video for the next best thing.

There are several reasons, I believe, why the classic French jacket appeals to home dressmakers, particularly to those of us who delight in couture procedures, hand work, and artistic license. It is we who have the ability to chose from such a broad array of beautiful boucles and silk charmeuses, both at select fabric shops and online. Therefore, we are not limited to the fabric selections of a particular fashion house. Furthermore, we can adapt the jacket to our own individual preferences, for example, fitted or boxy, longer or shorter, collarless or not, to mention just a few potential changes. Finally, the finishing components of trim and buttons make it unique and uniquely our own.

This quote from Oscar Wilde is an appropriate summation of how home dressmakers, privileged as we are to know the “recipe” of jacket construction, approach the making of our classic French jackets: “To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.” We dressmakers see the jacket from various viewpoints:

1) construction techniques; including, but not limited to, the unique method of marking seamlines, quilting the layers of boucle and lining silk together, and hand-finishing the raw interior seams.

2) as already stated, the privilege of selecting our own fabrics, trims and buttons.

3) stylistic details which enhance the ability of the jacket to flatter ones particular form, such as altering the length of the sleeves, pocket details, front neckline variations, adding bust darts in certain situations, etc.

4) an appreciation for – and knowledge of – the engineering magic of invisibly quilting two fabrics together to produce an entirely new medium.

In my opinion, it is this ability to see – and appreciate firsthand- the complexities of the jacket which makes it such a worthy undertaking.

You may ask at this point why I am thinking so much about classic French jackets. Could there be any other reason than the fact that I have started work on my third, but far from final, one? Using boucle gifted to me by my grown children a little over a year ago, I am intently working through the “process.” Because I am fortunate enough to have a fitted pattern muslin template from my class with Susan Khalje 3½ years ago, my initial progress has been speedier than normal.

Here are my muslin pattern pieces freshly ironed and ready to start.

My muslin pattern arranged on the boucle, ready to double-check and cut out.

Allowing for wide seam allowances…

Pieces cut and thread-traced.  Next step:  the lining fabric.

Stay tuned as I make further posts about my time-consuming progress on this timeless style.

20 Comments

Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, couture construction, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

20 responses to “Timeless: The Classic French Jacket

  1. Karen Mizzi

    I’m so glad you wrote about this. Lately I’ve been contemplating pulling out my tweed fabric and vintage pattern. This has definitely inspired me to look at it again. Thanks for the tip on Susan Khalje. Can’t wait to read your next post on the progress of your jacket. X

  2. I have loved that bouclé since the first time you shared it! Will there be a skirt to follow or just the jacket?😍

  3. I always so enjoy reading your thoughts – and as this is something close to my heart, even more so. Looking forward to a close up shot of your boucle ( it looks divine!!! Love the blue hues!) and seeing what you use as trim. I’m already daydreaming about my fourth one – I’ve not yet made one with a printed lining, so I’ve decided that this is an absolute must…

    • We’re hopeless, aren’t we? Always dreaming of the next one – I have boucle for three more jackets. I am almost ashamed to admit that! I am so disciplined in other areas of my life, but not when it comes to fabric!

  4. Beautiful fabric and I’m looking forward to watching this take shape. These jackets are addicting to make, like you mentioned, for the endless options we sewers have. I’ve also made several and find the hours of hand work relaxing. Thanks for sharing yours.

  5. Don’t enable me to make another one! It’s such a long haul but they’re so luxurious and useful. Looks like this one will be a winner!

  6. Jaenice Palmer

    Love watching the process here–it gives me a new appreciation for the time, care, and effort that goes into one jacket, and the fabric is gorgeous. I’ve seen RTW versions, or rather I was looking over pictures online, and many of them seem so dull compared to the choices made by those of us who can and do sew. Insert quote from Mel Brooks film here: “What’s the matter, Colonel Sanders? Chicken?!”

    Then there are the fabrics you find at Britex, B & J Fabrics, Mood Fabrics, Fine Fabrics (thank you, Santa Barbara, for being a hop, skip, and a jump away), Truro Fabrics over in the UK, Linton Tweeds ditto, and other such places. I am not yet up to the level where I can toss off a French jacket in my sleep (it would be a miracle if I was!), but I love the idea of a French jacket, or jazzy coat taken from a vintage pattern, in one of these gorgeous, breathtaking boucles. It sounds delicious already. As usual, great post!

    • Aren’t we so lucky to have such glorious fabrics available to us? For this jacket, the boucle came from Mendel Goldberg in NYC, but I found the lining silk at Britex on one of my trips west. I’ll go more into that as the jacket progresses…

      • Jaenice Palmer

        We are, and how! As for Mendel Goldberg, I learned about the store through this blog, so thank you for that–they have some real honeys in their selection. No need for another RTW beige jacket–I’ll eat mine here, thanks. I’ve known about Britex for years; boucle season hasn’t hit them yet this year, but I agree the silks are scrumptious. (I once saw an amber silk in a subtle patterned weave that still makes me swoon.) I look forward to seeing this latest creation blossom for all to see.

  7. These are beautiful jackets – well worth the time and work that is put into them. I can’t wait to see your’s. Your fabric is lovely!

  8. Mery

    It’s pretty already. It will be stunning when finished. Much has been accomplished on it already. The hand stitching means much holding fabric in the left hand that was injured last fall. Best wishes to all of you. Some things rotate out of our wardrobes, but I’d be wearing this, first as a dressy centerpiece, then later with slacks and jeans and everything until it’s as old as your last bathrobe. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Mery! Fortunately my hand has healed so beautifully that I can do hand-sewing without any cramping or pain, which is just short of a miracle in my mind! I hope this jacket will prove to be very versatile – from dressy to blue jeans. So far, it’s been fun!

  9. I know you will create another beautiful jacket. I really enjoyed making a couple of these very slowly. I have the Vogue 8991 which I understand is also based on a Channel jacket, and some nice wool to make it in. Maybe you have encouraged me to act rather than just think about it!

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