Coco Chanel

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Coco Chanel in 1928

Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971)[1] was French fashion designer. She was a founder of the House of Chanel.

Chanel was a leader of women's fashion in the 20th century. She was the only fashion designer to be named on TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century.[2] She lived her life according to her own rules, even though the role of women in the post-World War I era was still restricted. We can see much of her influence today. She became a role model for women across the world to break free of conventions.[3]

In her youth she had been a seamstress and a nightclub singer.[4] After opening boutiques in Paris and Deauville, Chanel became a licenced haute couture dress designer and maker in 1919.

Fashion triumphs[change | change source]

The famous perfume commercialized by Coco Chanel

Her styles were simple, practical, and expensive. They included beautifully-made suits for women, and classic dresses. Her 'little black dresses' from the 1920s were famous, and are still copied today. She also designed accessories, such as a handbag with a shoulder strap that left the wearer's hands free.

A short-list of triumphs which are taken for granted today:

  • The little black dress
  • Chanel No.5, the most famous female perfume in the world.
  • The suit for women: knee-long skirt and box jacket worn with pearl necklace
  • The Tweed suit for women
  • The jersey dress with the chain belt
  • The cashmere cardigan
  • Slacks – women's trousers for informal occasions
  • Shoes, such as the beige slingback with black toecap
  • Costume jewellery (various)
  • Make-up and skin care products
  • Short hair: the 'bobbed' hairstyle
  • Above all, the 'total look': integration of the various elements of a woman's outfit.

First shops[change | change source]

Chanel headquarters in Paris

In 1913, Chanel opened her first boutique in Deauville, France. Her simple wardrobe attracted women from society to the Chanel brand. In 1915, she opened a second shop in Biarritz.

Chanel promoted her own ideas through her line of clothing.[3] She became one of the first women to create simple and practical clothes, based on a dynamic and sporty lifestyle. Chanel liked to mix men’s and women’s fashion. She helped to reform women's lifestyle: short hair, tanned skin and casual style were the new trends.[3] She banned corsets and other uncomfortable garments.[5]

Personal life[change | change source]

Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster with Coco Chanel

She was the mistress of a number of rich men, and reputedly turned down marriage to the Duke of Westminster. When asked why she did not marry him, she said: "There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel".[6] She never married.

In 1920, while she was in a relationship with the Grand Duke Dimitri, she had the brilliant idea to add a Russian touch to her dresses by embroidering some Russian patterns on them. With the Duke of Westminster, from 1924 to 1931, she discovered the English elegance and comfort: tweed sweaters, men's jackets and the famous English coats which will all become part of her new collections.[3]

War-time[change | change source]

Chanel lived at the Hotel Ritz, Paris, for over thirty years. She was there during World War II, when the Germans occupied Paris, and her shops were closed. Her affair with a Nazi officer put her in an awkward position after the war, when she was accused of being a collaborator. Apparently, the British Royal Family intervened to get her released.[4] She promptly moved to Switzerland, and gave up fashion.

After a 15-year gap, Chanel, who was then 71 years old, was shocked to see the new trend created by Christian Dior in couture and high fashion. According to her, Dior imposed an overly feminist style with his restoration of crinolines and corsets. She understood better than anyone the requirements and needs of an active woman’s lifestyle, and decided to reopen her boutique in 1954.[3]

The French ignored her, but she was still a star to the Americans and British, who bought steadily almost everything she designed. Her fame rests not just on her dress sales, but on the many design styles which influenced other designers, and were copied by many of them. She came up with the idea of the lady’s suit. This is like a second skin, we can wear it all year long (in winter like in summer). This set of clothes was designed to allow ease of movement. The jacket, without a collar, was as flexible as a cardigan. The skirt, at knee-level, did not tighten the waist or hinder walking.[3]

Media[change | change source]

Her life has proved fascinating to theatre, movie and television:

  • 1969 Broadway musical: Coco
  • 1981 film: Chanel Solitaire
  • 2002 novel: Coco & Igor
  • 2008 book for children: Different like Coco
  • 2008 TV movie Coco Chanel
  • 2009 movie Coco before Coco
  • 2009 movie Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Today[change | change source]

Chanel died in 1971. She left behind her a real fashion empire. However, this ingenious and revolutionary designer is still influencing the women’s lifestyle. Because of her women today can be feminine as well as comfortable.[3]

The House of Chanel is still in business, and still a member of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, the top fashion clique in Paris. They do modern versions of many of Chanel's best ideas.Karl Lagerfeld has been the artistic director since 1983.[3]

References[change | change source]

  1. "Madamoiselle Chanel: the perennially fashionable". Chanel. Retrieved 2006-10-13.
  2. Ingrid Sischy (1998-06-08). "Coco Chanel". TIME 100 - The Most Important People of the Century. TIME.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Ormen, Catherine. CHANEL GABRIELLE - (1883-1971), Encyclopædia Universalis [online], (accessed on january 8).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Charles-Roux, Edmonde. 1975. Chanel: her life, her world, and the woman behind the legend she herself created. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, distributed by Random House. ISBN 0-394-47613-1,
  5. Coco Chanel biography, Bio true story, p.1, (accessed on january 9).
  6. "Coco Chanel biography". Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  • Charles-Roux, Edmonde 2005. The World of Coco Chanel: friends, fashion, fame. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-51216-6.

Other websites[change | change source]

Media related to Coco Chanel at Wikimedia Commons