The iconic little black dress turns 90


The inventor of the classic

When Coco Chanel (pictured here in 1935) wore a knee-length, tight-fitting black dress in "Vogue" in 1926, readers just couldn't believe it. Until then, black had been the color reserved for grieving widows. Yet many saw in it a new form of self-confident femininity. Women could still grieve - but not without style!



It wasn't until 1978 that the London auction house Christie's enlarged its usual repertoire of artworks and antiques to include second-hand designer clothes. That year, 120 dresses and accessories from Coco Chanel's wardrobe were auctioned, fetching altogether around 138,000 pounds - which would be the equivalent of some 580,000 euros now. For that price, you could only get a single dress today.


Marilyn wears black too

Seen as dodgy and sexually provocative, the little black dress long kept a bad reputation - but that obviously didn't stop Marilyn Monroe from wearing it, both on the silver screen and in real life. This photo is from 1956.


Diversion strategy

The French chanson singer Edith Piaf was a petite black dress inveterate. At the beginning of her career, she was always dressed in black. Legend has that it was the only dress she owned, and she couldn't afford to buy a new one. Others claim that wearing black was a strategy to oblige the audience to focus on her voice.


Swimming suit

Anita Ekberg's dip in the Trevi Fountain in Rome is a world famous scene from the film "La Dolce Vita" (1960). It remains a mystery how this strapless dress didn't slide off the actress - but it didn't. Even when Marcello Mastroianni got into the water with her. The scene was shot in January, and Mastroianni apparently needed a few shots of vodka to warm up before jumping in the icy fountain.


Breakthrough with Audrey Hepburn

Playing the role of socialite Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), Audrey Hepburn memorably wore this chic Givenchy dress, window-shopping at Tiffany's after a night out. Hepburn was so gorgeous and elegant in her depiction of Holly that the little black dress finally found moral acceptance in society.


Cool beauty

Here French actress Catherine Deneuve wears a design by Yves Saint Laurent, from his prêt-à-porter label "Rive Gauche" (1966). Deneuve was Saint Laurent's muse and best friend. The fashion designer was costume designer for many of Deneuve's movies, including the famous "Belle de Jour."


Revenge dress for a princess

On the day Prince Charles admitted his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, Diana went to a party at London's Serpentine Gallery. She daringly picked this black pleated chiffon dress designed by Christina Stamboulian. The dress went down in history as the "Revenge Dress" and dominated the next day's headlines. Charles' affair slipped to the second page.


Made for the stage

Still sexiest at 65: Soul and pop diva Tina Turner is shown here in glittering black at a concert in Copenhagen in 2005. Now 76, she has mostly retired from the stage. Living in Switzerland, she studies Buddhism and integrates spirituality into her music.


The winter is coming

The little black dress keeps on renewing itself, 90 years after Coco Chanel's first design. Fashion designer Marcel Ostertag revisited it as a winter dress / sweater, as seen on the runway during the New York Fashion Week in September 2016.

It's just a dress. But the LBD's iconic absence of color has made it fashionable and versatile for 90 years. Here's a tribute to the little black dress - elegant, provocative, long, short, narrow or wide.

Actually, it's way more than just a dress. It's a statement.

Coco Chanel revealed her little black dress in "Vogue" 90 years ago, predicting that is would become "a sort of uniform for all women of taste," which was a revolutionary thing to say in 1926.

Back in the Golden Twenties, countless women were grieving their husbands who had died during the war. That same decade also launched decisive steps of women's liberation. This could be felt in fashion, where skirts became shorter and figures were emphasized.

Coco Chanel freed women from the corset with the little black dress, aka LBD. It would take many years for it to become an essential element in every woman's wardrobe however.

Eco@Africa | 23.09.2016

Click through the gallery above to discover some of the LBD's most iconic moments.


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