As the fashion designer, who gave us the incomparable House of Chanel, “Coco” influenced countless fashion and style trends around the world. In fact, she mastered the art of creating truly iconic fashion — items that are as stylish now, as the day they were made, so many years ago.
Who Is Coco Chanel?
The talented French couturier, Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel, is celebrated for contributing numerous elements to the world of women’s fashion — the little black dress, her one of a kind Chanel No. 5 fragrance and much more. During the period of the 1920s, Coco even popularized the look of sun-tanned skin, setting a new standard of “beauty” among society as a whole.
Past and present — Chanel is a label defined by elegance and simplicity. The brand features modern designs in fashion accessories, eyewear, ready-to-wear and haute couture collections. In regards to the original work done by Coco, scores of her clothing designs were created from jersey — a fabric which had not been employed ever before in the realm of women’s fashion. In fact, it was often used to make men’s underwear. The pioneering designer’s signature Chanel suits were inspired by menswear styling — with comfort and design reigning supreme. Over the years, her popular collections primarily incorporated variations of her favorite hues — beige, black and white.
While most people are familiar with Chanel as a luxury designer brand, few know anything about the life of the style icon, who originally founded the successful label. Nevertheless, Chanel’s impact on the world of fashion is simply undeniable. Businesswoman and designer, “Coco” Chanel was the only individual in the field of fashion, to be named one of ‘The Time 100: Most Important People in History’ for the twentieth century.
According to TIME Magazine —
“Coco Chanel wasn’t just ahead of her time. She was ahead of herself. If one looks at the work of contemporary fashion designers as different from one another as Tom Ford, Helmut Lang, Miuccia Prada, Jil Sander and Donatella Versace, one sees that many of their strategies echo what Chanel once did. The way, 75 years ago, she mixed up the vocabulary of male and female clothes and created fashion that offered the wearer a feeling of hidden luxury rather than ostentation are just two examples of how her taste and sense of style overlap with today’s fashion.”
Coco Chanel represented a shrewd businesswoman, who defined aspects of the entire fashion industry. As a designer, her business acumen was undeniably one of the best in the business, although her methods in many instances were questioned in the past, due to dalliances with married men and dealings with the Nazis.
Born in Saumur, France in 1883, Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel’s life was far from ideal. If you examine her childhood and early years, the periods in no way reflect the image people think of, when they hear the name of the luxurious label. At the young age of 12, her mother died of tuberculosis and her father placed her in an orphanage. While living in the orphanage — she learned a useful and important trade from the nuns who raised her — that of a seamstress. Her skills as a seamstress would ultimately transform her destiny, and the toughness of her childhood is reflected in how she engaged with the world.
At the age of 18, Gabrielle departed from the orphanage, to pursue a career as a cabaret singer in the towns of Moulins and Vichy. It was during her career as a singer that she was gifted with the nickname “Coco,” that we know of today.
“Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,’ according to an article in The Atlantic.”
In her early twenties, during her stint as a cabaret singer, Coco also dedicated a great deal of time working as a seamstress. During this period, she became the mistress of French textile heir and socialite, Etienne Balsan. Needless to say, her days as a struggling cabaret singer did not last for long, although she did continue with her work with clothing and even designing hats.
Balsan was instrumental in introducing Coco to French society and introducing her to a world with which she was unfamiliar — but quickly adapted. Later, she went on to become the mistress of one of his wealthy associates — Arthur “Boy” Capel. Although both men were key in facilitating Coco’s business ventures in the future — Boy Capel was the one individual who really afforded her the opportunity to begin Chanel. He provided her with the financing to open a millinery shop in Paris’s Rue Cambon. After her success there, she opened hat shops in the cities of Deauville and Biarritz, eventually transitioning into clothing designs of jersey and working in couture as well.
Early Success in Fashion
By the period of the 1920s, Coco had achieved immense success. As a French fashion designer, she actually revolutionized, how women around the world dressed during the 20th century. Before Coco’s creations, most women were still sporting the uncomfortable corseted attire that initially typified fashion of the period. Coco’s perception of fashion was often inspired by menswear, and the need for women to be just as comfortable as men. At the time, Coco’s new standard of style changed how the world regarded women’s fashion — and even femininity.
She originated classic jersey suits and dresses for women — specifically the signature Chanel suiting and little black dress.
According to Metmuseum.org —
“In 1926, American Vogue likened Chanel’s “little black dress” to the Ford, alluding to its almost universal popularity as a fashion basic.”
She is also responsible for creating luxurious quilted handbags, comfortable tweed jackets, the magnificent Chanel No. 5 and so much more in the areas of apparel and accessories for modern women. Coco’s inventive designs set the tone, for many of the styles during the period of the twentieth century, and countless trends that we continue to see designers incorporating into the fashion industry today.
Chanel’s Impact on the Fashion World
As a label — Chanel represents the ultimate luxury brand.
As an individual — Coco is regarded as a genius and fashion icon. Coco is not remembered for being the nicest woman in history, but she is remarkable due to her immense creativity as a designer, and keen expertise in business.
Many people can create “trendy” fashion. But every designer cannot create innovative fashion with timeless appeal. As a dominant force in the fashion industry Coco Chanel knew how to create a masterpiece. Her simple quote, “Fashion fades, only style remains the same,” captures the true essence of how she opted to approach her career as a designer.
During the twentieth century, by shrewdly employing every resource available to her, Coco Gabrielle Bonheur, rose to prominence as a businesswoman, defining herself as a foremost designer, who created the ultimate luxury brand — CHANEL. Her brand and legacy continue to live on in fashion today.
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. — Coco Chanel