Coco Chanel is an unavoidable figure in the fashion industry, his name is synonymous with elegance, style, and independence, but the life of the celebrated fashion icon abounded in lows. His strict upbringing is also reflected in his clothes and work ethic: he is also responsible for the little black dress, the string of pearls, or the simple tailoring line.
Gabrielle Chanel was born in Saumur in the summer of 1883 and grew up in poor conditions, which was further aggravated by the fact that her mother died while her father – leaving her and her four brothers – traveled to America to try her luck. Gabrielle, then 12, and her sisters, Julie-Berthe, and Antoinette, were taken to an orphanage run by the Cistercians, while her brothers went to work on a farm. From there, at the age of 18, she moved to the Notre Dame Institute in Moulins, where she learned to sew – her mother also worked as a seamstress.
She began working as a seamstress in 1903 when she was still making baby clothes and panties. Five years later, she tried her luck in Vichy and, through her uncle’s intercession, took a job as an actress. In the beginning, he was given only smaller roles, but as he came to the fore, the more affluent suitors began to line up with him. Thanks to his roles in Sanzoni, he met the wealthy Gabrielle Arthur Capell, with whom he later moved to Paris.
With the financial support of Capel, he opened a hat-making workshop, then in 1913 he opened his first store called Chanel Modes, and after the success of the store, he opened two more salons. Because the hats he made were a huge success, he opened another store in 1918, the first modern boutique: in addition to clothes and hats, the store also sold jewelry and beauty products, and later the still legendary Chanel N ° 5 perfume – plus the world’s first artificially produced and blended perfume.
“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” Coco Chanel himself said in 1923.
Interestingly, at that time the boutique operated on the ground floor, while on the first floor you could choose from clothing collections, and on the second floor lived Coco Chanel himself. In addition, Karl Lagerfeld of Germany, a recently deceased fashion designer at the Chanel House, also worked here.
His years in the convent can be markedly discovered in the clothes he designed: the neutral colors, the straight lines, and the hard collars evoke the style of both the orphanage building and the uniforms of the sisters working there.
Clothes designed by Coco Chanel were very popular not only among European but also American women. She designed the “little black dress” in 1926, which was very popular not only with fashion critics at Vogue magazine but also with modern women. Previously, no one dared to design black clothes as it is the color of mourning, however, thanks to its sleek shape and a simple white string of pearls, the dress has become the uniform of modern women, nothing better proves that today is an eternal classic in the fashion world.
The dresses she designed served comfort, practicality, and elegance, Chanel discarded the props of complex elegance and thus the corsets as well. In the era, both he and his clothes were considered very bold, as he cut his hair short and also wore pants with a preference. However, this was exactly what brought her success, the simplicity, and elegance of her clothes contrasted with the sometimes complicated and uncomfortable fashion of the age.
It had such an impact on the fashion world that fashion designers of the age, such as Dior, Givenchy, or Lanvin, replaced their extravagant-style clothes with a lighter and simpler yet casual line. The jersey costume designed by Chanel, with its cardigan-like top, became a real fad on the streets of Paris, and it was even the case that shoppers grabbed the costume so quickly that the sewing shops did not win to make a supply.
In addition, in 1932, during the economic crisis, he designed diamond and platinum jewelry on request – at that time, only Coco Chanel could do that. By 1935, about 4,000 employees worked for the Chanel fashion house, and nearly 28,000 clothes were sold annually. During the war, however, both the sewing shop and the fashion house closed.
The post-war period posed great challenges to Chanel, the then 71-year-old designer had to compete with celebrated French fashion designer Christian Dior. Years later, he opened his own workshop and introduced a new collection, but this was coolly received by the profession. He later launched iconic products such as the chain quilted bag and the black-toed sandals. Her popularity was further boosted by the statement of the famous American actress Marilyn Monroe that Chanel N ° 5 is essential for her.
The celebrated fashion designer died on January 10, 1971, at the age of 87, but never married, but had several suitors, such as Grand Duke Dmitry Romanov or the Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor. Arthur Capel – who started his career – as a married man, yet he had a relationship with Coco until his death in 1919 – he is considered the only love of the fashion designer.
Throughout her life, she has founded a company empire that not even a woman has succeeded in before – nothing can prove this better than the fact that the company is still at the forefront of the fashion world, employs around 25,000 people, and has annual revenues over € 9.6 billion.