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The name Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel represents much more than a fashion house, it is the meaning of rebirth for a society that sought to understand public life in the aftermath of war. The French designer presented in her time an unexplored concept of femininity and confidence, where fashion was her ally in freeing women from the conventions of dress, dominated by the rigidity and constriction of the body.

With a childhood marked by a nomadic life and unstable jobs, the young Chanel found her vocation by learning sewing in the orphanage where she was raised. Her flair for public relations and a hidden talent for her singing, crossed into her life the men who supported her with her beginnings in fashion, and became the reason for the creation of the most significant pieces of it. With the sewing skills learned in her youth, French fashion designer Gabrielle Chanel entered the world of hat design, a job that began what became a vast fashion empire.

Chanel slingback shoes

Coco learned the perspective of having nothing, and having everything, a vision that allowed her to take inspiration from the elite and their customs to deconstruct the concept of good taste, and impose her own way of understanding it. The designer established a business that delighted both the aristocracy and the masses, democratizing style with garments that gave any woman the opportunity to look elegant in clothes that no longer contained her, but adapted to her daily life.

Chanel created pieces loaded with fascinating stories that concentrate the meaning of Parisian style, which today converge the spirit of the designer and her original concept of the brand, with a new understanding of contemporary women and fashion. The house founded by Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, which began as a hat business at 160 Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris, represents one of the most relevant figures in fashion with more than 300 locations around the world, maintaining its vision of style. as a romantic means to navigate life.

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Who was Coco Chanel?

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was a French fashion designer and businesswoman, founder of the eponymous fashion house, Chanel. She is considered the dressmaker who gave freedom of dress to women in the post-World War era, strongly dominated by corsetry constructions. Chanel introduced more sporty and casual silhouettes in the 1920s, redefining the meaning of elegance and femininity at the time. She was the promoter of the cruise seasons, an important influence on French haute couture and the creator of the Chanel n.5 perfume. Her brand grew from creating hats to a fashion empire characterized by the new image of women, bringing her aesthetic to her famous jewelry and the creation of her iconic leather bags.

Fashion designer Coco Chanel poses with a hat

Where was Coco Chanel born?

Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born on August 19, 18883 in Saumur, France. Gabrielle’s mother was Eugénie Jeanne Devolle, a laundress at a local charity hospital, and her father was Albert Chanel, a traveling salesman. Coco was the second of eight children of the couple, after the death of her mother when Chanel was eleven years old, her brothers were sent to work in the fields and she and her other two sisters were sent to a convent in Aubazine. which served as an orphanage.

portrait of Chanel founder Coco Chanel

How did Coco Chanel become a designer?

Gabrielle learned to sew during her time in Aubazine and went on to work as a seamstress, a job she complemented by singing in a Moulins cabaret frequented by French cavalry officers. While singing at Moulins, Chanel met Etienne Balsan, a former cavalry officer and heir to a textile company. The singer became Balsan’s lover, with whom she lived and introduced her to a life of luxury. While with the heir, Chanel began designing hats, a hobby that later became her profession. Etienne helped Chanel establish a hat business in Paris, and in 1910 she opened the Chanel Modes store at 21 rue Cambon in Paris to sell her designs.

Around 1908 Gabrielle had begun an affair with Edward Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, an English polo player and merchant. Both men were influential in Chanel’s personal life and as a designer; while Etienne introduced her to the world of hat design, Boy Capel and her sartorial style served as inspiration to create the ‘Chanel look’. With financing from Arthur Capel, the designer opened a new store in Deauville, a luxury location in the city center where her hats, jackets, sweaters and sailor blouses were sold. With the success of the store, the designer opened a boutique in Biarritz, a destination for war exiles and wealthy people of the time. Barely a year after opening, the business was so successful that Chanel managed to return to Capel the amount of the initial investment she put into the stores.

Coco Chanel with Arthur ‘boy’ Capel on the beach of Saint Jean de Luz in 1917. Getty Images

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What was the legacy that Coco Chanel left in fashion?

Coco Chanel freed post-war women from silhouettes dominated by corsets and bulky skirts with the introduction of an aesthetic that revolved around more sporty, youthful and casual styles. The designer built a fashion house whose designs revised the customs of the elite, giving women the opportunity to belong to this style. Gabrielle took note of horse riding, hunting and yachting culture to create her most famous designs, the Frenchwoman converted situations into garments that allowed her to redefine the style and femininity of her time.

The Chanel fine jewelry store at 18 Place Vendôme in Paris Chesnot

What were Coco Chanel’s most iconic designs?

El little black dress

At a time when black was only worn by women when they were in mourning, Coco Chanel gave women with the little black dress a new opportunity to dress elegantly even during times of the great depression in Europe. Made of wool or chenille to wear during the day, and satin, crepe or velvet for the night, Chanel allowed low-income women to walk like millionaires. In 1926 Vogue defined the little black dress as a ‘uniform for the woman of good taste,’ comparing it to a Ford car for its attributes of accessibility, design, simplicity and price.

Gabrielle Chanel en uno de sus little black dresses.Rex Features

The tweed suit

The Chanel suit was distinguished by the practicality and comfort it gave women to carry out their daily tasks without having to compromise their style, or expose what they did not want to show. The Chanel tweed jacket and skirt set did not have shoulder pads or darts on the bust lines as was customary in the design of the time, it was an intelligently designed piece made to measure for the clients, whose measurements were taken with the models standing or climbing steps to ensure good performance of the suit.

The Chanel tweed suit.

The Chanel tweed set was not like other women’s tailoring pieces, inspired by the construction of men’s pieces, but was designed for a special man, the Duke of Westminster, one of Chanel’s lovers. The designer used to use her clothes and she thought that with a change in the fabric she could create a design adaptable to the woman’s figure. Chanel commissioned a Scottish textile factory to manufacture the tweed yarn, the main focus of the piece.

The bag 2.55

Inspired by soldiers’ bags during the war, Chanel created the 2.55, whose name comes from the date it was created: February 1955. It was a piece with thin straps that allowed women to have their hands free when carrying their bag. . Its design brought together the designer’s memories, the strap simulated the Castilian-style belts used by the caregivers of the orphanage where Chanel grew up, while the burgundy color of its interior came from the color of the uniform worn by the nuns of the convent. The padding and texture of her exterior, however, came from Gabrielle’s relationship with sports, being a direct reference to the vests worn by jockeys in horse racing.

The Chanel 2.55 bagVanni Bassetti

Two-tone shoes

Before the introduction of these shoes in 1957, women typically only wore footwear that matched their outfit. Gabrielle created a two-tone piece, its black toe shortening the appearance of the foot, while the nude color gave the illusion of longer legs. Chanel’s creation became revolutionary and was made in two versions, high heels and sneakers. After celebrities such as Catherine Deneuve and Brigette Bardot were seen wearing this design, its use became popular and became a success.

The two-tone shoes in Chanel’s Cruise 2014 collection by Karl Lagerfeld. Yoshi Okamoto

The Breton top

Chanel’s travels were the reason for the creation of many of her pieces, and the Breton top was no exception. Her trips to the French coast and the sailors’ nautical uniform caused Chanel to incorporate into her 1917 collection a piece with horizontal lines, the Breton top, one of the most famous pieces created by Chanel. The designer’s relationship with sailing culture also gave life to pieces such as flared boot pants and espadrilles, both worn by sailors and fishermen.

Coco Chanel at her Villa La Pausa in Roquebrune, wearing a Breton top. Rex Features

How is Coco Chanel’s aesthetic defined?

Fashion experts refer to Coco Chanel‘s design, more than as a fashion trend, as a social phenomenon that changed the perception of women’s dress and femininity after the end of the First World War. Chanel’s style took women from silhouettes dominated by corsetry and rigidity, to a style where comfort and the reconquest of sensuality confronted the definitions of what was modest and proper. Unaware of the impact her designs would create, Gabrielle focused her fashion house on concentrating on Parisian style, and everything that the term means.

Chanel sold the hedonism of Parisian life to the masses as part of their experience, through a design still influenced by the style of the elites and the aristocracy; adapted to a changing society in search of a sense of freedom as if it were a new rebirth. For Chanel, ‘fashion is not simply a matter of clothes. Fashion is in the air, it is born from the wind. One senses it. It is in heaven and on the way,’ the designer with her savoir-faire took the DNA of French culture and her own experiences to create a brand that encompasses elegance through simplicity, with pieces that transcend and use meaning of the dress to represent the person.

Coco Chanel en 1950Rex Features

What contributions did Coco Chanel make to fashion?

Coco Chanel‘s contribution to fashion transcends the meaning of clothing, the designer gave women a new sense of confidence that had not yet been explored at the time. In a Europe that was coming off 4 years of war followed by a significant depression, where dress codes for women were dominated by the corset and structured silhouettes, Chanel gave women a way to free themselves from tradition and reveal themselves in against conventions.

The vision of the young woman raised in an orphanage penetrated the European elites, creating with her brand a form of democratization of style. Chanel dismissed the aesthetics associated with good taste to impose her own way of understanding it, enchanting both the aristocracy and the masses with her new concept. The symbols associated with wealth were part of Chanel’s tactic to build her empire, the designer contributed to the normalization of imitations of gold and pearls as a way for women to look elegant with more affordable jewelry, without compromising their style.

Coco Chanel at her 1969 spring/summer show. Rex Features

Chanel printed a part of its own history in its designs. Her loves were translated into bags, perfumes and suits; while her vacation on the French Riviera became the reason for her pieces with naval silhouettes and her motivation for the creation of the cruise collections. The designer took notes from the environments she frequented to create some of her most representative pieces. The world of horse riding, water sports, and the hunting season with British royalty were great inspirations for Chanel.

Her fame as a couturier and good social relations gave Chanel the opportunity to put her designs into new fields. Gabrielle frequented figures such as the Russian Sergei Diaghilev, patron and founder of the Ballet Russes, through whom she formed a close relationship with Igor Stravinsky. From this friendship arose Chanel’s collaboration with the composer to produce the famous production Le Sacre du Printemps, in addition to creating costumes for performances by the Ballet Russes.

Coco Chanel en 1930.Rex Features

The relationship with the arts forms an important part of Gabrielle Chanel‘s legacy. In addition to her contribution to the foundations of Parisian haute couture, she was an ally of the MGM studios during the 1930s for the creation of their stars’ costumes for films, achieving dressing important Hollywood figures such as Gloria Swanson in her famous role in Tonight or Never (1931), Ina Claire and Greta Garbo. Chanel was not only part of American cinema, the designer also designed costumes for films by renowned French directors such as Jean Renoir.

Coco Chanel in her suite at the Ritz hotel in Paris, where she lived for more than 30 years. Rex Features

The fascinating story of Chanel‘s life, her loves and her career in fashion, has been an attraction for the creation of films, books and investigations. Films like Coco Before Chanel (2008) take a look at the designer’s life before she built her fashion empire, while Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009) tell the story of the relationship between Chanel and the Russian composer. Karl Lagerfeld himself directed a short film presented during the French brand’s 2013/2014 Métiers d’Art collection, titled The Return (2013), which reviews the reopening of Chanel in 1954 after Gabrielle‘s hiatus in Switzerland. Once Upon A Time (2013) is another short film directed by Lagerfeld that tells about the opening of the Chanel store in Deauville.

Gabrielle Chanel

What is the story behind the iconic Chanel perfume?

When Chanel decided to commission her first perfume, she did so with the intention of redefining the concept of women in the 1920s. At the time, fragrances for women were a source of categorization, scents with flowery scents were used by society women, while strong fragrances with musk notes were associated with courtesans. Gabrielle Chanel commissioned French-Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux to create a perfume that smelled like a woman, not roses; so her first fragrance concentrated both scents to represent all of them, and not just one of the female spirits.

Beaux presented Chanel with 10 different samples, numbered from 1 to 5 and from 20 to 24, Coco chose the number 5. Since her youth the number had had great symbolism for the designer, so she told Ernest that she would keep the number. fifth show because she presented her collections on the fifth day of May, which is the fifth month of the year, so she would let the show keep the number 5 because it would bring her good luck.

Actress Marylin Monroe was one of the personalities who helped popularize the perfume. Courtesy

The result was Chanel no. 5, the first fragrance made by a French couturier to bear her own name and with herself being the image of her advertising. To date, other designers like Poiret had also ventured into the world of perfumery, but the Frenchman decided instead to give the perfume the name of his daughter. Chanel’s perfume for the flapper of the 20s had notes of jasmine, roses, sandalwood and vanilla, harmonized with the newly created aldehydes that imitate the smell of freshness that Chanel was looking for, which had a close link with its past in laundries, and they allowed the woman to enjoy the fragrance for longer.

The story behind the bottle that contains the Chanel fragrance is a new story related to the designer’s experiences. Gabrielle wanted a bottle that would change the concept of elaborate figures, for that she was inspired by the rectangular lines of the bottles made by Charvet, a French tailor, that her lover, Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, carried in his travel case. leather. The Chanel No. 5 bottle was compared to the design of whiskey decanters, in effect another element associated with the British that inspired the designer, who sought to reproduce the ‘exquisite, expensive and delicate’ look of her glass.

How did Coco Chanel choose the logo for her fashion brand?

It is presumed that Chanel’s famous double C logo was conceived by the designer around 1925 after a visit to the Château de Crémat, in Nice, France, where she frequently vacationed. The castle is recognized for its vaulted arches decorated with stained glass, where in the middle of a series of geometric patterns in different colors, there are two C-shaped metal slats that intertwine with each other, an image that has been cited by the house of Chanel as one of the most likely sources of inspiration for its logo.

When did Coco Chanel die?

Coco Chanel died at the age of 87 on Sunday, January 10, 1971, at the Ritz hotel in Paris, where the designer had resided for more than 30 years. His funeral was held at the Eglise de la Madeleine, it was a commemorative event inside the Catholic building attended by other designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Balmain and Cristóbal Balenciaga, while the models who wore his designs for years occupied the front row. of the ceremony. Gabrielle’s coffin was covered with camellias, gardenias, orchids, white azaleas, and some red roses. Her grave is in the Bois-de-Vaux cemetery in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Coco Chanel‘s funeral in Paris, 1971.  Rex Features

Who did Coco Chanel leave her fortune to?

After her death, Coco Chanel left most of her estate to her nephew, André Palasse, and her two daughters.

Gabrielle Chanel was the designer who changed the concept of dress for the woman of her time, introducing her to a new vision with more freedom. With her iconic designs, she created one of the most important fashion houses today, leaving a legacy of sophisticated style and the meaning of good taste.

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