Tag Archives: classic French jacket

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.

22 Comments

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

Paris in Baltimore – and Beyond: A Small Fashion Show

Shortly after I returned home from my Classic French Jacket Class with Susan Khalje, an article entitled “The Comeback of Haute Couture” appeared in The Wall Street Journal.  The reporter, fashion editor Christine Binkley, gives an overview – from the haute couture week in Paris, of course – of the frenzied and renewed interest in “astronomically expensive made-to-measure clothing [ranging] from $10,000 to $150,000 or more.”  Among the fashion houses showing haute couture collections was Chanel.  To quote:  “Chanel . . . looked as though the clothes could be easily worn, even if they were assembled, pleated, and embellished by dozens of ‘petite mains,’ as haute couture seamstresses are called. ‘Of course it’s comfortable.  It’s Chanel,’ said designer Karl Lagerfeld . . .”

“Comfortable” is a description frequently used by those of us making our own Chanel-inspired jackets.  Of course, everyone knows that the inspiration for Coco Chanel’s original cardigan jacket came when she cut her lover’s cardigan sweater down the front, added some ribbon trim and created a classic.  How the construction of the jacket went from sweater to quilted, silk-lined boucle is unknown to me, but one thing is for sure:  these jackets feel as cozy and comfy as any old favorite sweater.  I think this was a revelation and lovely surprise to all of us.  It makes wearing them all the more rewarding.

And – wear them we are starting to do!  Some of my classmates have kindly given me permission to show their finished jackets here on Fifty Dresses.  I am delighted to share these lovely examples made by “petite mains” Joanne, Holly, Myra, and Sherry:

Joanne’s classic black jacket is elegant and so versatile.  Her lovely floral lining fabric does not show, but trust me that is stunning.

A simply lovely jacket!

A simply lovely jacket!

Holly’s jacket has sparkle to it, just like her!

Look at the beautiful lining that Holly chose.

Look at the beautiful lining that Holly chose.

Isn't this color perfect for Holly?

Isn’t this color perfect for Holly?

The buttons which Holly chose are perfect!

The buttons which Holly chose are perfect!

With a few scraps left over from her lining, Holly made a color-blocked shell to wear with her jacket!

With a few scraps left over from her lining, Holly made a color-blocked shell to wear with her jacket.

Myra’s horizontally and unevenly striped boucle caused some minor headaches during the pattern placement, but look how beautifully it turned out.

Looking lovely even in the hot sun!

Looking lovely even in the hot sun!

Myra's jacket - 2

Myra's whimsical lining fabric features images of Audrey Hepburn.  She brought this fabric with her to Baltimore and chose her boucle accordingly.

Myra’s whimsical lining fabric features images of Audrey Hepburn. She brought this fabric with her to Baltimore and chose her boucle accordingly.

Sherry chose a creamy white, loosely woven “windowpane” boucle for her jacket, and the result is pure loveliness.

Isn't this beautiful??

Isn’t this beautiful??

Sherry very cleverly made her pockets on the bias.  The petite buttons are just right for the weave of the fabric.

Sherry very cleverly made her pockets on the bias. The petite buttons are just right for the weave of the fabric.

Look how well Sherry's jacket fits.

Look how well Sherry’s jacket fits. 

One of the many fun aspects of the class was the color variety of jackets being sewn.  While there were other deep shades (raspberry pink, royal blue, true purple) I was the only one making a red jacket.

For starters, here is my jacket hanging.

For starters, here is my jacket hanging.

A few details.

A few details.

A view of the lining.

A view of the lining.

Shown with basic black.

Shown with basic black.

I can't believe it's finished!

I can’t believe it’s finished!

I added a gradual 1/4" to the back length, which gives it a more graceful line, I think.  This was one of Susan's many excellent suggestions.

I added a gradual 1/4″ to the back length, which gives it a more graceful line, I think. This was one of Susan’s many excellent suggestions.

Red Chanel jacket

There is nothing shy about this lining fabric!

There is nothing shy about this lining fabric!

During the lengthy process of making my jacket, I have had lots of time to reflect on some of its charms:

1) Boucle is wonderful for hand-sewing, as one’s stitches simply disappear into the fabric.

2) This is “common sense” sewing: every step (of which there are many) adds in subtle or significant ways to its wear-ability, appearance, or fit.

3) Finishing a project like this is empowering.  I felt like I grew as a “dressmaker” during this process.  And beware . . .

4) Finishing a project like this is addictive.  Yes, I already have a boucle for my next one . .

However, before I start my next one, I have one thing to (start and) finish:   That charmeuse I used for the lining?  I purchased enough to make a sleeveless sheath dress to wear with my jacket.

What was I thinking??

28 Comments

Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, couture construction, sewing in silk, Uncategorized