Some like it haute

Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto,





on women’s wardrobes? At you won’t find complete answers to these questions. Sensing, perhaps, that too much investigation will break the spell it wishes to cast, biographical details are at a minimum. It is equivocal about everything from Chanel’s activities during the second world war to her relationship with Hugh Grosvenor, the then Duke of Westminster (and a notorious antisemite, though the show prefers to emphasise the link between his shooting parties and her fondness for tweed). About the work, however, it is unstinting. Here are more than 200 suits, dresses and quilted handbags, a display of sartorial good taste so protracted, it left me – even after I’d breathed in that stern, clerical coat – quite stupid with covetousness. Gabrielle Chanel (she took the nickname Coco as a young woman) was born in 1883, poor and illegitimate, in the Loire. Her father was a travelling salesman; her mother died when she was 11, after which, Gabrielle was placed in a convent, where the nuns taught her to sew (as a designer, her palette always favoured the beige, black and white of their habits). Competent enough to work as a seamstress, on leaving school she found employment alongside her aunt in Moulins. But having caught the eye of a textile heir, Étienne Balsan, she soon moved to Royallieu, northern France, where he had a chateau and she could sell her hats to his friends. In 1910, backed now by her English lover Arthur “Boy” Capel, she opened the first Chanel boutique in Paris; it was followed by branches in Deauville and Biarritz, seaside towns that encouraged for publication, showing the kind of energy and enthusiasm associated with Burgess’s own reviews. The first prize is £3,000 plus publication of the winning piece in the New Review and online at Two runners-up will each win £500. The deadline for submissions is 29 February 2024. This year’s judges are the Observer’s art critic, Laura Cumming, and arts editor, Sarah Donaldson, and Andrew Biswell, from the Anthony Burgess Foundation. Andrew Biswell Full details of how to enter are online at observeranthony-burgess-prizearts-journalism