Chanel suit finds new fans in Gen Z channelling 90s nostalgia

Young fans drawn to preppy suit worn by Olivia Rodrigo at White House and cast of Gossip Girl reboot

The Chanel suit, an outfit typically associated with ladies who lunch, has an unlikely new set of fans – Generation Z.

This month Olivia Rodrigo, the 18-year-old singer of hits including Driver’s Licence and Good 4 U, chose a pink and black vintage version for a visit to the White House to meet the US president, Joe Biden. Global fashion search platform Lyst said that following the appearance, searches for vintage Chanel rose by 200%.

Chanel suits have also been worn by Simone Biles on the cover of WSJ magazine, and by the cast in the Gossip Girl reboot. Jennie from the band Blackpink, meanwhile, wears the luxury label so much that she is sometimes called “Human Chanel” by fans.

Scene from Gossip Girl
The reboot of Gossip Girl. Photograph: BBC/PA

Rodrigo’s choice was a nod to First Lady style – its most famous wearer being Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the 60s – but the 90s are the focus of this revival. The singer’s suit is from Chanel’s spring/summer 1995 collection.

The references being made by the suit’s new Gen Z fans are more likely to be a young Helena Christensen on the catwalk in a Chanel suit and bikini top, Hilary Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or Cher Horowitz from the 1995 film Clueless. Instagram account @chanel_archives is a popular source for Chanel catwalk images from this era, whose high-profile followers include Ariana Grande and Tavi Gevinson.

90s inspiration: Cher and Dionne in 1995’s Clueless. Photograph: Alamy

Chanel is, of course, a luxury brand and therefore expensive. Vintage suits on sites like Farfetch have prices starting at about £2,000. Those without rock-star budgets get the look with Chanel-like pieces on Depop, the resale app that Rodrigo uses herself, for as little as £25.

Depop’s global curation lead, Viviana Attard, who studies trends for the company, pinpoints the style as part of the rise of preppy look. “[Rodrigo] visually expressed a vibe that’s been gaining more traction lately – we’ve seen an increase in interest in listings and searches for the typical preppy look, recently brought back into fashion with the Gossip Girl reboot.”

Lyst’s content editor, Morgane Le Caer, argues that the different associations of the Chanel suit – the fact that it can signal preppy, first ladies, the 90s and the 60s – is a concept that appeals. “Gen Z style is … about creating a very personal world – or mood – through the juxtaposition of visual elements,” she says.

Ryan McMahon, who runs @chanel_archives, says he particularly likes the “kitsch” collections that Karl Lagerfeld produced for Chanel between 1990 and 1997.

“I think we’re in a generation of nostalgia, and everyone seems to be obsessed with looking back in fashion and remembering a time when fashion wasn’t so serious. Chanel in the 90s is a perfect example of this,” he says.

“Hopefully from my account people are discovering ways to style the Chanel suit in a fun and fresh way that can be youthful, which a skirt suit isn’t always assumed to be.”

Both Le Caer and Attard argue that the sustainability factor of vintage is important – and Rodrigo represents her generation here too. “[She] is a huge secondhand and vintage fan and makes environmentally conscious decisions with her fashion choices,” says Attard. “It’s no surprise she chose to wear vintage for such a high-profile and momentous occasion like visiting the White House.”


Lauren Cochrane

The GuardianTramp

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