Considered by some to be the most elegant woman to ever have walked the earth, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel has become the most iconic woman in fashion history.
On August 19, 1883 (though she later claimed her real date of birth was a decade later, in 1893 [The Biography Channel]) in Saumur, France, Chanel was born into a less than glamourous life. The bastard child of a poor shop girl and peddler, her rags-to-riches story is one of history’s finest.
“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.” ― Coco Chanel
After her mother’s death from tuberculosis on Februrary 8, 1895, Coco spent the rest of her childhood in a convent after her father decided he could not be responsible for the young girl (Biography).
Chanel spent a brief period of time in her late teens singing and entertaining the wealth of France. During this time, she became the “back up mistress” to playboy Etienne Balsan, a prominent part of the French elite.
Ever the rebel, Chanel dismissed her “duty” to wear the extravagant gowns and represent wealth, preferring dark, streamlined dresses which established her signature style (Entrepreneur).
During this time, Chanel had gained regular duchess and princess customers while gaining more and more attention for her flawless repairs and hand-made hats (Coco Before Chanel).
In 1910, Chanel opened her first hat shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon (Biography).
In 1913, she opened her first clothing shop in Paris, a gift from her lover, Arthur Chapel (Entrepreneur). She followed this store with one in Deauville and another in Biarritz. On a chilly day in Deauville, Chanel fashioned a black, jersey dress, which intrigued many of her customers and became the original LBD* (Biography).
“My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,” she once told author Paul Morand (Biography).
During the 1920’s, Chanel launched the world-famous, Chanel No. 5 perfume. She insisted perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.” (Biography).
“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” ― Coco Chanel.
Her signature tweed, collarless cardigan-jacket trimmed in braid with an elegantly straight skirt suit is the single most copied fashion of all time (Entrepreneur). Chanel created the suit in 1925 and gave women a reason to say good-bye to tight-fitting corsets and over-the-top gowns that went over them. The goal was comfort and elegance.
Since the doors of the first Chanel shop opened, the minimalistic, menswear inspired design of women’s suits, little black dresses and accessories have remained an essential part of fashion. The Chanel essentials have been developed to follow past and future decades, but always remains true to Chanel’s original goals of design.
“Fashion fades, style is eternal.” ― Coco Chanel.
After her death in 1971, the House of Chanel was put into the hands of Karl Lagerfeld in 1983, who is still the creative director today.
*LBD – Little Black Dress