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She was the greatest style icon of 20th century, whose designs still shape what we wear.

Yet the Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel who emerges from the first exhibition ever dedicated to her work in Paris will come as a shock to fans of her brand’s bling.

The creator of the little black dress, tweed suits, two-tone shoes and quilted handbags that are synonymous with French elegance was a very different animal to Karl “the Kaiser” Lagerfeld, who turned her label into a US$100 billion business.

While the flamboyant German impressario had a magpie eye for street fashion, the Coco Chanel presented at the new show at the city’s fashion museum, the Palais Galleria, was a futurist visionary of almost spartan refinement.

Many of the dresses she designed and wore a century ago are so startlingly modern they could grace the catwalk now.

The cliché is that Chanel freed women from the tyranny of Victorian corsetry, borrowing liberally from men’s wardrobes to do so.

But for the curators of “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto,” that was only the tip of the iceberg.

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