Chanel tunic

Recently found in an attic in Grasse, Gabrielle Chanel’s ‘Russian’ tunic from her Spring 1922 collection sold for a record €100,000 (£86,000) at a sale in Paris held by Kerry Taylor with Maurice Auction. 

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The dress, previously known only from photographs and illustrations, was found earlier this year in the attic of a French château.

Gabrielle Bonheur ‘Coco’ Chanel (1883-1971) is credited with popularising a sporty, casual chic in the post-First World War era. This dress, offered by south London vintage fashion specialist Kerry Taylor in association with Maurice Auction in Paris on November 18, was made in the years following the Bolshevik revolution when many Russian refugees fled to France.

Chanel tunic detail

A detail of the embroidery on the Gabrielle Chanel ‘Russian’ tunic from her Spring 1922 collecton.

Chanel herself had taken a Russian lover – Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, grandson of Tsar Alexander II – and in 1921 was introduced to his sister the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovana. Trained in embroidery as part of an aristocratic education, she liked to assist Chanel in her studio and went on to set up Kitmir, a company employing young Russian emigrés to produce both hand and machinemade embroidery.

Chanel chic style shines in two salerooms

With the Ballets Russes in fashion, Chanel was not the only couture house to incorporate these traditional Slavonic embroideries into their collections.

This tunic is well known from the literature. It was featured in British Vogue in early March 1922 under the headline ‘Chanel lends Oriental brilliance to black crepe de chine by Russian and Balkans embroideries’. Mme Germaine Coty was photographed arriving in the US wearing an identical gown. However, none were known to still exist.

Gabrielle Chanel label

The Gabrielle Chanel label on the tunic dress.

“The Spring 1922 collection is one of Chanel’s most acclaimed yet hardly anything has survived –this piece has been on my wish list for decades,” said Kerry Taylor.

“The combination of Chanel’s inspired design combined with Kitmir’s richly coloured handembroidery in silks and silver thread makes this a real milestone piece in the history of the house.”

The dress, which bears the label Gabrielle Chanel, had been stored away in a box in the attic of a family château in Grasse for close to a century. The current owner had emailed Taylor for advice.

“As soon as the image hit my inbox I recognised the tunic, cross-referenced it with my archive and was on the phone to [the vendor] in seconds.”

Last week two phone bidders battled it out from the estimate of €10,000 with the gavel falling to ‘a French institutional buyer’ at a total price of €125,000 with 25% buyer’s premium added. The previous record for vintage Chanel was £72,000 for a Chanel Kitmir embroidered evening coat, c.1918-20, sold by Kerry Taylor in London in 2019.

Chanel 1996 coat and skirt

Chanel 1996 Coromandel evening coat and skirt designed by Karl Lagerfeld with embroidery by Maison Lesage – €220,000 (£189,200) at Christie’s Paris.

By chance, a record for any Chanel haute couture garment was set just four days later at Christie’s Exceptional Sale in Paris on November 22 with the €220,000 (£189,200) result for a Coromandel evening coat and skirt designed by Karl Lagerfeld with embroidery by Maison Lesage. The design was worn by Kate Moss at The Ritz for the unveiling of Chanel’s Winter 1996 collection.

It was estimated at €15,000-25,000 but sold way above the guide to a patron of the Victoria National Gallery in Melbourne. A 26% buyer’s premium was charged.