DESIGNED more than 50 years ago by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the designer label's little black jacket has barely changed over the years. Now, a volley of celebrities has put it over their shoulders and been photographed by Karl Lagerfield. The exhibition of his pictures opens today.
It's Chanel's largest and most ambitious project in Australia.
There are more than 150 portraits including film director Sofia Coppola, actors Waris Ahluwalia, Elle Fanning and Sarah Jessica Parker, plus violin virtuoso Charlie Siem.
The stars wear identical black Chanel jackets - a slightly boxy collarless tweed with a single row of silvery buttons.
An essential element in every Chanel collection, the jacket's silhouette and cut may transform perennially, but its signatures are unchanged. Every jacket since Coco was in charge features a version of Chanel's iconic "knitted" buttons.
Today's shopper will pay more than $2000 for a jacket and considerably more for a couture version.
"Chanel is a house full of codes and symbols," says Astrid Berges-Frisbey, a Spanish-French actress most famous in Australia for her role as a mermaid in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. "Karl [Lagerfeld] designs with this in mind, he's always surprising us because he reinvents the spirit of Chanel."
Berges-Frisbey was photographed by Lagerfeld for The Little Black Jacket and flew to Australia for the exhibition opening.
In her photograph, Berges-Frisbey appears as an angelic punk in a Union Jack T-shirt, her jacket tied around her waist.
"With the younger generation, they tried to find a new character," Berges-Frisbey says of her experience shooting with Lagerfeld. "I think with the people who are already very iconic, they kept their own personhood."
Actor Anna Mouglalis looks pious with heavy knotted hair and hands clasped in prayer in her photograph. The honey-and-gravel-voiced actress who once portrayed Coco Chanel is also in Sydney for the exhibition.
Like many of Chanel's most famous designs, the little black jacket has its origins in menswear.
"It was originally based on a groomsman's jacket," says Mouglalis.
Although Chanel does not sell menswear, there are many men depicted wearing the jacket in the exhibition.
"One of the things I feel is very cool about this project is the men's participation," says Berges-Frisbey. They include designer Alexander Wang and hip-hop innovator Theophilus London who played a set at the exhibition's opening on Thursday night.
The Little Black Jacket exhibition is at Pier 2/3 in Sydney's Walsh Bay until November 11 and is free.