Coco Chanel: Who Was She Really?

By Anastasia Frilley (2EA)

“Fashion has two purposes: comfort and love.
Beauty comes when fashion succeeds.” – Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer who ruled over Parisian haute couture for
almost six decades, is famous for her timeless designs, trademark suits and little black
dresses. But what is her story?

Coco Chanel, named Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, was born on August 19, 1883 in
Saumur, France and died on January 10, 1971, in Paris. Her elegantly casual designs inspired
women of fashion to abandon the complicated, uncomfortable clothes—such as petticoats and
corsets—that were prevalent in the 19th century. Among her now-classic innovations were
the Chanel suit, the quilted purse, costume jewelry, and the “little black dress.”

At the age of 12, after her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her
father, who worked as a peddler, a door-to-door salesman. Gabrielle was raised by nuns who
taught her how to sew, a skill that would lead to her life’s work. When she left at the age of 18, she
tried her luck as a “cousette”, but also as a singer in concert cafes. For the record, her
nickname “Coco” was given to her after one of her favorite songs “Qui Qua Vu Coco?”,
which she sang all the time.

Certainly rebellious by nature, Coco Chanel allowed herself many freedoms,
especially regarding clothing. Her sewing skills gave her the ability to make her own clothes,
which would prophesy the sleek elegance that will make her famous: outfits of a flashy
sobriety, twisted by pieces reserved for the male wardrobe like the cardigan and the pants.

In 1910, with the financial help of her lover Arthur Edward
Capel nicknamed Boy Capel, Coco Chanel opened her first
hat shop, called “Chanel Modes”, at 21 rue Cambon in Paris.
Immediately, actresses and celebrities visited her to place
orders for hats. It only took a few days for this elegant and
simplistic fashion to be worn by Parisian women. Shortly after
the opening of this first boutique, Chanel established itself
with two other boutiques, notably in Deauville in 1913 and in
Biarritz in 1915, cities that hosted the bourgeoisie during the
war. It was the start of a great adventure.

Finally, in 1918, Coco Chanel set up her fashion house at 31 rue Cambon. To stay
true to her mission, which was to revolutionize the fashion world, the young designer was
launching all kinds of trends. We note the fashion for short hair, the arrival of simple dresses
and suits, and the demystification of the famous little black dress. At that time, the
color black was strictly reserved for mourning and funerals. A belief that did not fail to make
Coco Chanel react: she created unique, simple, sober and elegant models, which were very
popular with French women and, today, women across the world.

In the 1920s, she launched her first perfume and eventually
introduced the Chanel suit, with an emphasis on making clothes that
were more comfortable for women. She herself became a much
revered style icon known for her simple and sophisticated outfits
paired with chic accessories. Her early years were anything but

Despite some difficult trials, Chanel as a brand has made its way into the world of
fashion. Coco Chanel the person was a very strong person, who never lacked ideas or the
opportunity to revolutionize the world of beauty and luxury. Today, her brand is one of the most
iconic and famous fashion houses in the world.

“I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.” – Coco Chanel


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