Birthday: August 19, 1883
Died At Age: 87
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel
Born in: Saumur, France
Famous as: Fashion Designer
father: Albert Chanel
siblings: Alphonse Chanel, Antoinette Chanel, Augustin Chanel, Julia Chanel, Lucien Chanel
Died on: January 10, 1971
place of death: Paris, France
Cause of Death: Drug Overdose
awards: 1957 - Neiman Marcus Fashion Award
Coco Chanel was a renowned French fashion designer who founded the fashion brand ‘Chanel’. She was the first person to see style as both, classic and casual. Chanel created timeless classics and set a high benchmark for the fashion designers to come. She was instrumental in breaking the stereotype and liberating woman from the stifling ‘corseted silhouette’ and making the sporty casual chic look not only acceptable but also trendy and very fashionable. Her extraordinary fashion sense was not just limited to couture clothing but also reflected in fragrance, handbags and jewellery. She also was quite a party animal and had wide network of people with whom she socialised, built connections and did business. Chanel was ambitious, determined and hard-working lady whose effort clearly reflected in her work. She seemed more of an enigma and lied on many instances, masking her real age and place of birth. Chanel and her work can be best described in her own words ‘Fashion fades, only style remains’. This speaks volumes about what a legendary style and fashion icon she was.
Childhood & Early Life
Chanel was born on 19 August 1883 to an unwed mother Eugenie Jeanne Devolle. She did not have a great childhood and grew up with poverty surrounding her. Her mother Eugenie Jeanne Devolle was a laundry woman in the Charity hospital run by the Sisters of Providence in Saumur, France.
Chanel’s father Albert Chanel was a rambling street vendor who peddled work clothes and undergarments for a living.
When Chanel was 12, she lost her mother to bronchitis and her father put Chanel and other daughters to the convent of Aubazine in Central France. Chanel had a tough time in Aubazine, as it was a demanding place, and thus she fled from there to boarding house for Catholic girls in the town of Moulins.
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Although Chanel did not have a pleasant stay at Aubazine, it did do a little good to her eventually. She did a lot of sewing sewing in the six years that she stayed in Aubazine which earned her a job as a seamstress.
In her free time, she used to sing in cabaret frequented by cavalry officers. During this time she made her stage debut singing at a cafe concert in a Moulins pavilion, La Rotonde and she acquired the name ‘Coco’, because of the two songs she sang which she became identified, "Ko Ko Ri Ko", and "Qui qu'a vu Coco", or it was an allusion to the French word for kept woman, cocotte.
In 1906, she went to the spa resort town of Vichy and tried her best to become a stage performer but soon realized that a stage career was not her cup of tea and thus she returned to Moulins.
It was Captain Arthur Edward Capel, her love affair, who was instrumental in helping Chanel set-up her first shop. Capel, himself being a well-dressed man influenced the conception of the Chanel look.
The design of Chanel’s signature scent ‘Chanel 5’ drew inspiration from knick-knacks carried by Capel. It was either the rectangular, bevelled lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles Capel carried in his leather traveling case or the exquisite design of the whiskey decanter.
In 1913, Chanel with the help of Arthur Capel, who financed her, opened a boutique in Deauville. She introduced a range of casual clothes and sportswear. The boutique at Deauville became quite successful.
Inspired by this, she opened one such boutique in Biaritzz, in 1915. Subsequently Biaritzz did very well for Chanel.
By 1919, she was registered as a couturiere and established her maison de couture at 31 rue Cambon. She had the whole building of 31 rue Cambon in one of the most fashionable districts of Paris.
With time Chanel's business empire flourished and by 1935 she employed four thousand people. But during the late 1930s her business began to dip. other designers such as, Elsa Schiaparelli began to make their mark and the beginning of World War II, forced Chanel to close her shops.
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During the World War II, she was accused of being a Nazi spy. In 1945, after the end of the War, Chanel moved to Switzerland, eventually returning to Paris in 1954. She reopened her couture house in Paris, in 1954. But her new collection wasn’t well received by Parisians as the taint of being a Nazi spy continued to haunt her. However, her designs were well received by the British and the Americans.
Chanel’s signature scent ‘Chanel 5’ is an iconic product in the perfume world and is fancied by most big celebrities and also common people.
The legendary concept of the little black dress is often cited as a Chanel’s contribution to the fashion lexicon. This became Chanel’s fashion trademark.
The iconic Chanel bag, also known as ‘2.55’, name after the date of the bag’s creation (February 1955) made bag more of a style statement and a luxurious product apart from it being a necessity for women.
The famous ‘Chanel suit’ specially tailored for women encouraged women to pursue their professional goals in style.
Awards & Achievements
Chanel is the only fashion designer who features on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Personal Life & Legacy
She was romantically involved with French ex-cavalry officer Etienne Balsan and became his mistress at the age of 23. She was showered and pampered by his riches in the form of diamonds, pearls and dresses.
Chanel’s personal life was full of controversies. According to a biography ‘Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life’ Andre Palasse, supposedly the only child of her sister Julia-Berthe who had committed suicide, was actually Chanel's child by Balsan.
Later in 1908, Chanel had an affair with Balsan’s friend Captain Arthur Edward Boy Capel.
Capel was found having an affair and also married an English aristocrat but never completely broke off with Chanel. When Capel died in a car accident, in 1919, Chanel was shattered. She confided to a good friend as ‘His death was a terrible blow to me. In losing Capel, ‘I lost everything. What followed was not a life of happiness, I have to say’.
In Biarritzz, Chanel had a romantic interlude with an aristocrat Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia.
Chanel died on 10 January 1971 at Hotel Ritz where she lived for 30 years. Her funeral was organized at eglise de la Madeleine and the first seats were occupied by her fashion models. Her grave is located in the Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Chanel was caught lying about herself on several occasions. She was born in the workhouse in the Loire Valley where her mother worked, although she asserted that she was born in Auvergne. She also claimed that she was born ten years later to what people actually thought.
Chanel also claimed that when her mother died, her father sent her off two mean cold-hearted aunts but in reality she was sent to Aubazine, a home for orphaned and abandoned girls.