Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971)
we meet the creator of the “little black dress,” who took her cues from a country in mourning. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the designer doyenne who founded fashion’s most famous house, used her lovers’ money to establish herself and rewrote the rulebook with her mannish collections.
PARIS, France — It would be impossible to dispute the claim that Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is the most famous designer in history — the reputation outstripping that of rivals such as Dior, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, all of whom gave much more to fashion than she did. Her great strength was her ability to read the times and the moods that changed them — and usually do so before anyone else did. She was a true catalyst for fashion change, but not always a very original creator.
Her story has become legendary and at least its basic facts are now part of fashion mythology, even to those who have no special interest in the fashion world. Biographies, memoirs, diaries, films, even a play; her life has been turned inside out for all to enjoy and there is no reason to believe that the flow of words and images devoted to her will diminish in the foreseeable future, any more than that intertwined Cs of the company's logo will ever go out of fashion.
she began an insidious private war to try to make women as modern and comfortable in their clothing as men were — especially active, outdoor types like Capel. In Deauville, she introduced casual knits and dresses shockingly simple compared to what was coming out of the salons of the couturiers in Paris.
She chose the right moment. The 1914-1918 war was not a time for extravagance and the privations of war made women more receptive to simplicity then they might otherwise have been. Chanel was increasingly intrigued by the casual elegance of men's clothing, especially for wear in the country, and took many ideas from Capel's wardrobe, which were the basis for what was, by the end of the war a good business, with a Couture house registered in rue Cambon and a thriving establishment “pour le sport” in Biarritz. Both exemplified the principles that illuminated Coco Chanel's entire designing life: the luxury of simplicity; the insistence on perfection of workmanship and quality of materials and perhaps, her most lasting gift to fashion; the need for a fashionable woman to be slim and keep slim throughout her entire life.
I believe her “little black dress” of the ‘20s was inspired by three things. Firstly Chanel recognised the need for post-war mourning — even for young women — but thought that it could be more chic than the traditional women's needs. Secondly, she wanted women to stop looking down–trodden and destroyed with grief. So she turned to formal menswear; the stiff white collar and starched cuffs made a chic declaration of masculine conformity and superiority. Add to this the grim memory of the nuns, whom she never ceased to hate in their black habits and white coifs, and the fact that spicing the black of a dress with white collar and cuffs perversely made an aristocrat into a indoor servant who served the tea and ran the bath water, and you have the sort of complex Rubik cube that so much of Chanel's fashion had.
As the century morphed into the ‘20s, Chanel was acknowledged as one of the great fashion leaders not only in Paris, but across the globe. Her style and palette seems as modern today as it was then: chic and sportive during the day, based on crisp, flattering linearity and romantic at night. It is often forgotten that in the ‘20s and ‘30s, she created feminine evening dresses of lace that gave women as much authority as her day wear did.
She didn't have everything her own way, of course there were other important couturiers in Paris, not least Vionnet, Madame Grès and Lanvin and her two arch rivals, Patou in the ‘20s and Schiaparelli in the ‘30s. Guarding her own position, she did everything to denigrate them and their style. Patou had great success in America — already emerging as a crucially lucrative market for French fashion, and one well worth fighting for. Schiaparelli had a fairground boldness and wit, which grabbed the headlines every season, to Chanel's deep chagrin.
Edna Woolman Chase, editor-in-chief of American, French and British Vogue for over half a century, frequently had run-ins with Chanel over how many editorial pages were devoted to her and to Patou. She objected to her clothes being featured on the same spread as his and frequently threatened to cancel her advertising if she couldn't have her own way. But Chase was every bit as tough as Chanel and it was usually the couturier who had to back down. As she observed: "Chanel has the spirit of a Till Eulenspiegel…One could never be sure whether her mischief making was deliberate or unconscious." I think the judgement of history would be less ambivalent.
Chanel spent World War II holed up in the Ritz with her German officer, von Dincklage, having closed down her business in 1939. With the cessation of war, France was out to punish those who had collaborated with the German occupation force. It was considered expedient for Chanel to leave France and she was spirited away to Switzerland, with the agreement of Winston Churchill it has always been rumoured.
And there Coco Chanel's career could have stopped, and she would have still held the honoured place she does today. But, instead, she decided to make a comeback — a risky decision for an old woman no longer in sympathy with the current fashions. Known as one of the leading modernises and directional creators of fashion in the 20th century, she had also, in Chanel No. 5, given the world its best known and most popular fragrance. Gossip at the time said that it was No. 5 that forced her decision, as it was losing its pole position without the glamour of clothes and fashion shows to bolster sales. Others claimed that it was Chanel's personal hatred of homosexual designers who, in the ‘50s, dominated Paris couture. Although she admired and accepted Balenciaga as a great craftsman as well as creator, she saw Dior, Balmain and others as undoing all the work she had done to simplify and modernise women's dress. She was determined to stop their chauvinistic romanticism (as it seemed to her) making overdressed masculine trophies of the modern woman whom she had worked so hard to create as a powerful being, largely dependant of men.
Chanel presented her new collection on February 5 1954. The French press, still unforgiving of her behaviour during the war, were lukewarm but the American and British press saw her soft, little suits as a breakthrough uniting chic and youth in a fresh accessible way. Chanel had pulled off a coup and a miracle. The Chanel suit is a standard garment in modern fashion, worn by teenagers as well as their grandmothers. And the miracle? She was 71 when she made her comeback. She died, alone, in 1971, aged 88, after a hard day’s work. Since that time more words have been written about her than any other fashion designer of the 20th century.
If ever the title ‘the queen of fashion’ should be bestowed upon someone, then it has to be Coco Chanel as she had introduced the new era of fashion industry in the early 20th century and is still on the top of the fashion sense in 21st century. This is the passion story of Coco Chanel who started her journey when no woman could imagine creating their own story so easily.
Born as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in France, Chanel’s early life was not that glamorous at the beginning. After Chanel’s mother died, her father put her in an orphanage and she was raised by the nuns. There she learned how to sew which she had no idea will be the main lead to her future work and career. Though she chose singing as an initial occupation and used to perform in clubs in Vichy and Moulins, she got her nickname ‘Coco’ from there.
Chanel had a bigger dream of doing something her own and she was ready to take any opportunity possible. Though she was still not clear about what exactly she was going to do, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsan who offered her a millinery business in Paris. Looking for a better opportunity Chanel left him and started working with Balsan’s wealthier friend Arthur Capel.Chanel had her own business ideas in mind and she opened her first shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910. Though she started her business with selling hats, she didn’t take long to open two more branches in Deauville and Biarritz and added clothes to the list. Chanel started making clothes by her own with her own sense of new and unique styles. She got the taste of success in the job when she made a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. When people started asking her about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them.“My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville.” – ChanelBecoming the leader of the path
In the 1920s, when Chanel’s business was thriving, she took it to a new level. Chanel launched her first ever perfume called ‘Chanel No. 5’ which became the first perfume to carry the name of the designer. Over the years with No. 5 being a massive source of revenue, Chanel became a popular brand name.In 1925, Chanel came up with the now renowned ‘Chanel suit’ with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. The designs of the suits became revolutionary for the time as they were made by borrowing elements of men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of then-popular fashions.Another success of her creations was the little black dress which was the perfect example for how one mourning colour can be really glamourous as the evening wear. Chanel designed costumes for the Ballets Russes and Jean Cocteau’s play ‘Orphée’, and counted Cocteau and artist Pablo Picasso among her friends.
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself, aloud.” – Chanel
This was the thought that encouraged Chanel to live her passion when women were still frightened to live on their own. She believed in being unique from others and do something different that the world will remember her for. According to Chanel, she couldn’t do anything if there was no individuality of her own and this is what she always wanted to share with women and wanted them to become the queens of their own lives.