LBD: Definitive style statement

PARIS: When designer Coco Chanel unveiled the first real ‘Little Black Dress’ 80 years ago, it caused quite a stir in the world of women’s fashion. Now the iconic garment is so ubiquitous it has its own entry in the New Oxford Dictionary and Wikipedia.

Fashion’s most timeless of octogenarians today remains as much a style statement as it was in its first daring incarnation in 1926 — a symbol of simple, practical chic. The LBD, as it is known for short, is a sartorial choice of women of all ages and places, eager to exude elegance or avoid a fashion faux pas.

“What she invented is more a ‘principe’, an idea, the fact that a dress can be used in different situations and can be changed by the addition of accessories,” said Paris-based fashion historian, teacher and author Florence Muller.

Up until the 1920s, female elegance meant changing outfits for every occasion or part of the day, with highly-decorative clothes that were heavy, uncomfortable and often required a helping hand to put on.

Chanel’s revolution ushered in the one dress that could be worn from dawn till dusk with little adornment apart from well-chosen costume jewellery, yet remain the ultimate in modern elegance, Muller said.

The initial LBD was a simple crepe creation with a high neckline, long fitted sleeves and cut to just above the knee, with no buttons, embroidery, layering or fringing.

“For any girl with little money, it’s marvellous to have the possibility of having one dress for the whole year, and be well dressed. It’s an economy,” said Muller, who teaches at the Institut Francais de la Mode and has just written a book, Les Paruriers — Bijoux de la Haute Couture (Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture”).

Since then, the LBD has gone on to inspire leading designers and high street stores thro-ugh decades, constantly reinvented in shape, cut, fabric and detail, but remaining a wardrobe staple. It has had books and an exhibition devoted to it, while movie actresses are often still associated with the stylish Little Black Dress they wore in a certain scene of a film years earlier.

Audrey Hepburn was photographed in various black dresses, but a long one she wore in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, worn with a pearl choker and designed by Hubert de Givenchy, is often described as the definitive LBD.