Forget the dress – Lagerfeld just can't get enough of Chanel's Little Black Jacket

Exhibition celebrating a design classic opens in London

You've heard of the Little Black Dress – now meet the Little Black Jacket. The classic garment created by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the designer who revolutionised womenswear in the early 20th century, is being celebrated with a global exhibition taking in nine cities – and last night it opened in London at Charles Saatchi's gallery.

Curated by Karl Lagerfeld and Harper's Bazaar global fashion director Carine Roitfeld, the exhibition of 113 photographs, taken by Lagerfeld himself, features various muses, actors and bright young things in the jacket Chanel designed during the First World War, which remains one of the label's bestselling pieces.

"Every designer dreams of inventing the Chanel jacket," said Lagerfeld. "It's up there with jeans or the T-shirt. It has come to symbolise a timelessly fashionable form of nonchalant feminine elegance – it belongs to every era."

The design was inspired by the staff livery of the surprisingly named Baron Pantz Hotel, in Austria, where Mme Chanel once stayed. She then recreated the traditional Tyrolean jacket, with its four pockets and braid trim, in casual and practical jersey – an increasingly popular fabric thanks to wartime shortages, but one previously never used by high-end couturiers – and gave the boxy, masculine style a new softness and fluidity.

"It really is the piece that goes with everything and suits everyone," said Lagerfeld, who during his own tenure at the label has embellished the design with logo prints, fur and gold hardware. "It works by night or by day, and can be casual or dressy. Everyone always talks about the little black dress, but there's also the little black jacket."

But despite being one of French fashion's most famous garments, the Chanel jacket also has roots this side of the Channel. It was inspired by two of the designer's English lovers: the first, Boy Capel, whose tailored, masculine wardrobe provided the basis for the gamine tailored pieces with which she made her name, and the second, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, who introduced Chanel to British heritage fabrics through his love of hunting.

British stars who appear in the exhibition include Alexa Chung, the singer Lily Rose Cooper (formerly Lily Allen), the model Edie Campbell and the rock-chick star of the label's current accessories campaign Alice Dellal. Clearly, the label continues to be interested in the boyish and carefree attitudes of these thoroughly modern British demoiselles.

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