PARIS: When designer Coco Chanel unveiled the first real â€˜Little Black Dressâ€™ 80 years ago, it caused quite a stir in the world of womenâ€™s fashion. Now the iconic garment is so ubiquitous it has its own entry in the New Oxford Dictionary and Wikipedia.
Fashionâ€™s most timeless of octogenarians today remains as much a style statement as it was in its first daring incarnation in 1926 â€” 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.
â€œWhat she invented is more a â€˜principeâ€™, an idea, the fact that a dress can be used in different situations and can be changed by the addition of accessories,â€ 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.
Chanelâ€™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.
â€œFor any girl with little money, itâ€™s marvellous to have the possibility of having one dress for the whole year, and be well dressed. Itâ€™s an economy,â€ said Muller, who teaches at the Institut Francais de la Mode and has just written a book, Les Paruriers â€” Bijoux de la Haute Couture (Costume Jewelry for Haute Coutureâ€).
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 Tiffanyâ€™s, worn with a pearl choker and designed by Hubert de Givenchy, is often described as the definitive LBD.