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Chanel Jacket Comparison

The fascinating differences between haute couture and ready-to-wear
Threads #187, Oct./Nov. 2016

Easy to recognize, comfortable to wear, and perfect for just about any occasion, the iconic Chanel jacket is possibly the most covetable garment design ever created. This simple yet sophisticated jacket has been popular for more than 50 years.

Unlike most couture houses that jumped onto the mid-century ready-to-wear bandwagon, the House of Chanel didn’t introduce a ready-to-wear collection—Chanel Creations—until 1978. In 1983, the house’s new artistic director, Karl Lagerfeld, launched Chanel Boutique. Lagerfeld, like his predecessors, frequently used Chanel archive designs for inspiration in both the haute couture and boutique collections.

Sometimes the design elements of couture and boutique designs are so similar it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other. Why, then, does one cost about five times as much as the other? Is it just because it’s made to fit and flatter a particular client, or are the construction elements actually different?

To find the answers, I compared a 1967 haute couture jacket (near left) with a ready-to-wear jacket from 1994 (far left), both from my collection. The design of the two jackets is similar and one seen in recent collections. It reflects the iconic Chanel cardigan, which is revised year after year with different trims, multiple pockets, tweeds and nubby wools, sometimes with collars. This is the signature Chanel jacket, though there were other styles in the Chanel collections.

We’ll take a closer look at the jackets’ details to understand what differentiates the couture garment from the ready-to-wear one. Though they aren’t made the same, both versions are significantly higher in quality than an off-the-rack jacket you’ll find in a department store. You can adapt the techniques from either garment in your own sewing. The Chanel jackets may have unaffordable price tags for most of us, but the methods used to make them are…

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