COCO CHANEL: The Woman, The Brand, The Legacy!
On August 19, 1883, a baby girl was born to a laundrywoman in Saumur, a commune in western France. Her name was Gabrielle. At 12 years old, Gabrielle’s mother died of tuberculosis and the little girl was sent to a convent for orphans, a bleak period in her life. At 18, Gabrielle left the convent and used the sewing skills she gained at the convent to work as a seamstress and moonlighted as a singer at a cabaret, where she was known as “Coco”.
And thus, the humble beginnings of Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel before she catapulted herself to the forefront of global fashion and created a legacy that lives on more than 120 years later as the iconic brand, Chanel.
Coco Chanel – 1910
Coco Chanel revolutionized the world of women’s fashion in the 20th century. She challenged the conservative conventions of 1920s dressing, disdaining the use of corsets and swathes of fabric for women’s fashion. Coco Chanel today is revered for being an innovator in terms of tailoring and her adaptation of men’s suits for women. Her love for sports, and the equestrian aesthetic lead her to design unencumbered and functional pieces which challenged the feminine corseted silhouette of the time. The French couturière was also inspired by nautical fashion, using those elements to create some of her most iconic pieces such as crew neck sweaters, slim-fit trousers, and espadrilles.
One of her most iconic contributions to the fashion world was the original LBD (Little Black Dress), which Chanel initially created out of thin silk, crèpe de chine, and had long sleeves. This went on to inspire almost every major fashion designer since then, and the LBD today has many different iterations walking down runways of Paris, Milan, and London.
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Coco Chanel also elevated costume jewelry to never-before anticipated heights. Jewelry from the House of Chanel became a coveted item among society elite. Perhaps Coco herself said it best: “It’s disgusting to walk around with millions around the neck because one happens to be rich. I only like fake jewelry…because it’s provocative.”
The iconic Chanel 2.55 (named for the date of its creation, February 1955) handbag was also created under the reign of Coco. Having said to be tired of having to have handbags perched on her arms, Coco created a handbag with a longer shoulder chain for the wearer’s comfort. That simple design has inspired one of the most famous purses of the 120 years and one of the most coveted items in the world: Coco Chanel died in 1971, at 87 years old, in Paris. After her death, the brand of Chanel kept on growing albeit in a new direction. Chanel’s death marked the end of “Coco-Era” and the beginning of “Kaiser” Karl Lagerfeld.
APRÈS COCO: The Rise of The Kaiser
Even before his ascension to head creative designer for Chanel, german designer Karl Lagerfeld had already left his own mark on the fashion world. Early internships at Pierre Balmain and later work at Jean Patou, collaborations with Fendi, and eventually his own line preceded his work with Chanel. Lagerfeld is one of these designers whose fame has possibly surpassed the brand he works for…he is immediately recognizable, known his for his stiff white ponytail, tailored Hedi Slimane suits, and eponymous shades. Lagerfeld has been crediting with commercializing Chanel by keeping the brand modern and up to date with the introduction of more avant garde elements, including shorter hemlines.
When the designer was approached by Chanel, he referred to his work with Chanel as “waking the Sleeping Beauty” by having to bring the iconic brand into the 21st century.
Beginning by creating the interlocking Cs that are so recognizable today, Lagerfeld expanded the Chanel brand into men’s fragrances, watches, skincare, and optics/sunglasses.
CHANEL ON THE RED CARPET
The Chanel legacy is so expansive that this post barely brushes the surface. Whether you know it or not, Coco Chanel has inspired at least one aspect of your wardrobe, maybe in the most unexpected ways. A true fashion icon, female role model, and an inspiration…Coco Chanel!