Fashion Is Always a Reflection of the Time, But It Is Forgotten If It Is Foolish

Coco Chanel? Gabrielle Chanel? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When a fashionable new item or design is created it is always embedded in its time period. The item is certain to lose favor eventually and become unfashionable. Yet, some fashions transcend and endure. These items can be revived and become fashionable again and again. The fashion icon Coco Chanel (Gabrielle Chanel) apparently said:

Fashion is always a reflection of the time, but it is forgotten if it is foolish.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In September 1938 “Vogue” magazine of Paris published a two page spread of “Maximes et Sentences” (“Maxims and Sentences”) by Gabrielle Chanel. The following statement appeared among the 31 items. Boldface added to excerpts buy QI: 1

La mode est toujours un reflet de l’époque, mais on l’oublie si elle est bête.

Here is one possible translation:

Fashion is always a reflection of the times, but we forget it if it is stupid.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 2009 “The Gospel According To Coco Chanel: Life Lessons From the World’s Most Elegant Woman” by Karen Karbo mentioned the remark: 2

And then the modern times were upon us, and luxury was no more, according to Coco, who is Chanel. Women went to dinner in dirty pants and a man’s shirt. Luxury was replaced by squalor. And Coco said fashion is always a reflection of its own time, but we forget this when it is stupid.

In conclusion, the original French version of the quotation appeared in a piece by Coco Chanel published in the September 1938 issue of “Vogue”. The saying can be translated into English in different ways.

Image Notes: Illustration from “Les Élégances parisiennes” with publication date Juillet 1916. Image accessed via gallica.bnf.fr. Caption says: COSTUMES DE JERSEY: Modèles de Gabrielle Channel. (The correct spelling is Chanel). Image has been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1938 Septembre (September), Vogue, Maximes et Sentences (Maxims and Sentences) by Gabrielle Chanel, Quote Page 56, Condé Nast, Paris, France. (BNF Gallica Bibliothèque nationale de France)
  2. 2009, The Gospel According To Coco Chanel: Life Lessons From the World’s Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo, Chapter 12: On Elegance, Quote Page 223, Skirt, Guilford, Connecticut. (Verified with scans)