Coco Chanel was a French fashion designer and businesswoman, most known for introducing a new style to women’s clothing which proved to be the deathblow to the corseted female silhouette. She is also well-known for one of the most famous perfumes in the world, Chanel No. 5.
Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in 1883 in Saumur, France, as the second of a total of six children of a laundrywoman and street vendor, she grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet. Her surname was entered in the official registry as “Chasnel”, most likely due to a clerical error, which “Coco” never had changed in order to hide her modest origins and childhood spent in rundown housing.
Her father’s decision to send her and her sisters to a convent when she was 11 years old helped her develop her subsequent career as this is where she was taught how to sew. Following her 6-year-stay at the convent, she began working as a seamstress and also at a cabaret where she is said to have obtained her famous nickname “Coco” following the title of a song she used to sing there (Who has seen Coco?).
She did not establish her first boutiques until she met Captain Arthur Capel, a rich Englishman who also influenced the creation of the famous rectangular shapes of her signature perfume bottles through the shape of his toiletry bottles that he always carried around.
During her affair with Capel, Chanel began designing hats which she later transformed into a fully-fledged business, especially after her hats were worn by the famous French actress Gabrielle Dorzat. In 1913, she opened a boutique which sold deluxe casual clothing for leisure. She opened another boutique in Biarritz in 1915 which proved a success with wealthy Spaniards. In 1919, she established her high-fashion design company in Paris.
Initially, she only sold clothing but later expanded her portfolio to include fragrances and jewellery. In the 1920s, her now famous fragrance Chanel No. 5 was developed and successfully launched on the market. In 1947, it made her the richest woman in the world. In 1954, she made a comeback with the first collection in the past 15 years.
In her designs, she was renowned for freeing women from corsets, using jersey in an innovative way and being influenced by Slavic fashion. She is also famous for the so-called “little black dress”.
Did you know:
- That she was born in a poorhouse and never changed the wrongfully entered family name (Chasnel) on her official document to hide her origin;
- That she learnt to sew at the convent of Aubazine where she was sent by her father;
- That she initially wanted to make a career in showbusiness and appeared in the Parisian cabaret;
- That her short-lived singing career may have attributed to her nickname “Coco” due to the song she used to sing “Who has seen Coco”
- That she started designing hats more as a diversion during her relationship with the textile heir Étienne Balsan;
- That she opened her first boutique thanks to her relationship with Balsan’s friend, Captain Arthur Capel
- It is said that his sartorial look influenced the “Channel” look
- That the famous rectangular bottle of Chanel No. 5 can be attributed either to the toiletry bottles or whiskey of Capel’s;
- That she became a licensed milliner in 1910 and that her designs took off after being worn by the famous actress Gabrielle Dorziat;
- That she introduced a more chic and sporty style to women’s clothing, jersey fabric to high fashion and was heavily influenced by Slavic designs?
Most Inspiring Coco Chanel quotes
“The best things in life are free.
The second best are very, very expensive.”
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only.
Fashion is in the sky, in the street.
Fashion has to do with ideas,
the way we live, what is happening.”
“In order to be irreplaceable,
one must always be different.”
“The most courageous act
is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
“There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony.
There is time for work. And time for love.
That leaves no other time.”
“Adornment, what a science! Beauty,
what a weapon! Modesty, what elegance!”
“Don’t spend time beating on a wall,
hoping to transform it into a door.”
“You live but once; you might as well be amusing.”
“Elegance is when the inside
s as beautiful as the outside.”
Only style remains the same.”
“A girl should be two things:
who and what she wants.”