The Woman – Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel

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I began reading a book by Megan Hess about the life of Coco Chanel, one outlining her struggles, determination and inspirations that led her to become the icon she is. Coco’s creative vision was unquestionable; she revolutionalised fashion for women in the modern era and was able to reshape the women’s wardrobe through her undying love for fashion that is proven to have been the light amongst her darkness.

Here’s all there is to know about the early life of Coco Chanel ..

History

  • Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was born in 1883 in Saumur, a market town on the river Loire.
  • Her mother past away when she was 12 years old, and her father left her in a convent in the town of Aubazine.
  • She was taught to sew and undoubtedly had a natural flair.
  • Her uniform, featuring a white blouse and black pleated skirt was an influential trademark silhouette to her later career.
  • Coco then left the convent for the Notre Dame school in Moulins where her aunt Adrienne (a year her senior) was being educated.
  • Her skills were visible to her superiors and were able to find her employment in a draper’s store on the Rue de L’Horloge.
  • Coco wanted to become a singer so she began performing at a popular entertainment pavilion where she accepted a spot performing at a local cabaret.
  • She was loved so later moved to Vichy to establish her singing career.
  • ‘Coco’ her name was derived from her role as a performer, whereby the crowd would call her Coco when she performed the two songs ‘Qui Qu’a vu Coco & Ko Ko Ri Ko’.

Relationships

  • At the age of 20, Chanel met an ex-cavalry officer by the name of Etienne Balsan, they became lovers and so she ran away with him.
  • He was the catalyst to her visibility to the high society and upper class.
  • She used his connections to network and set up business opportunities.
  • She began her millinery label in Balsan’s Paris apartment.
  • Despite his infidelities, he displayed a life long loyalty to Chanel and they remained friends until his death in 1953.
  • She later found interest in an Englishman by the name of Arthur Capel, known as ‘Boy’ who was an accomplished Polo player and a wealthy businessman.
  • He showed faith in Coco and offered a loan to start her millinery business.
  • He went to marry Diana Wyndham, but continued his affair with Chanel until his sudden death in 1919 caused by a motorcycle accident on his way to see her.

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Business

  • Chanel’s millinery designs were her signature and reflected her personal style; she incorporated elements of menswear in her clothing.
  • She opened her first boutique in Paris in 1908 at Malesherbes.
  • She loved Paris and began to attract a loyal following.
  • Financed by Capel, she bought an atelier in 1910 and called it Chanel Modes.
  • Her clothing developed a reputation – Simple, elegant and chic.
  • She was unable to sell clothes due to competition but her hats and accessories were popular across Paris.
  • Inspired by the feel of Deauville, she seized the opportunity to open her Maison De Cotour in 1913, producing high- end designs for the leisure class that holidayed there.
  • In 1919, Chanel bought the entire building at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris with hopes to expand her business. This became the backbone of the House of Chanel and an iconic architectural symbol of the brand.
  • It was the emporium of Chanel: selling clothes, hats, accessories and later jewellery and fragrances.

Her legacy has only become more relevant above anything else.  She says, “I make fashion that women can live in, breath in, feel comfortable in”, so the rest is to be continued …

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