Celebrating Women - Coco Chanel

Hello Blog Buddies!

To finish off the 'set' of the beautiful collection of cards by Megan Hess, I would like to present to you a post on the incredibly stylish and completely intriguing, Coco Chanel. 
Certainly a 'Woman of Style'!

Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born in 1883 to her mother, Eugénie Jeanne Devolle and her father, Albert Chanel in Maine-et-Loire, France. She was the second daughter of the couple who both lived very poor, nomadic lives. By the late 1800's, the family consisted of five children 
- two boys and three girls - who all lived together in a one-room lodging in the town 
of Brive-la-Gaillarde.

When Gabrielle was 12, her mother died at the age of 32 from bronchitis. Too poor to support all the children on his own, her father sent his two sons out to work as farm labourers and sent his three daughters to a convent in central France which also housed orphans. The orphanage was a cold, stark, and frugal life, which embraced strict discipline. 

At age eighteen, Ms Chanel was too old to remain at the orphanage so she went went to live in a boarding house set aside for Catholic girls in the town of Moulins.

(Source: boomercafe.com)

During her 6 years in the orphanage, Chanel learned the art of sewing which provided her with the skills to find employment as a seamstress. At this time, she also managed to find work as a cabaret performer. It is believed that it was whilst singing in cabarets, that she acquired the name 'Coco'. 

(Source: Glamour.com)

Whilst living in Moulins, a twenty-three year old Chanel met a young French ex-cavalry officer and the wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan. For three years, she lived with him in his château Royallieu. Balsan introduced Chanel to a lifestyle of opulence and self-indulgence. Ms Chanel was introduced to a wider social group who delighted in parties and purchases. Chanel was bestowed with an abundance of diamonds, dresses and pearls by Balsan. Whilst living at Royallieu, Chanel began designing hats, initially as a diversion that evolved into a commercial enterprise. She became a licensed milliner in 1910 and opened a boutique in Paris.

(Source: Wikipedia.com)

In 1908, Chanel began an affair with one of Balsan's friends, Captain Arthur Edward Capel who was a wealthy member of the English upper class. Capel paid for an apartment in Paris for Chanel and financed her first shops. Despite Chanel's hopes that they would settle down and build a business together, Capel was never faithful to her. Their affair lasted nine years.

(Source: Dailymail.co.uk)

In 1913, financed by Capel, Chanel opened a boutique in Deauville, where she introduced deluxe casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport. The fashions were constructed from humble fabrics, not generally used in women's garments at the time, such as jersey and tricot. Her designs were far less structured and greatly removed from the corseted garments of the day. The location of the shop was perfectly situated in the centre of a busy, fashionable street. 
Chanel sold hats, jackets, sweaters, as well as the iconic marinière (sailor blouse). Chanel had the dedicated support of her sister Antoinette, and her aunt Adrienne. Adrienne and Antoinette would model Chanel's designs on a daily basis by parading through the town, stylishly advertising the Chanel creations.
With a determined business sense, Chanel opened another shop in a villa on the Côte Basque. After one year of operation, the business proved to be so lucrative that in 1916, Chanel was able to reimburse Capel his original investment. By 1919, Chanel was registered as a couturière and established her 'Maison de Couture' at 31 rue Cambon, Paris.

(Source: Thestylerebels.com)

In 1918, Coco Chanel purchased the entire building at 31 rue Cambon, which was situated in one of the most fashionable districts of Paris. In 1921, she opened what may be considered an early development of the 'fashion boutique', which sold a plethora of clothing, hats, and accessories, and later offered jewellery and fragrances. 
(It is also where the famous Chanel 'mirrored staircase can be seen.)

By 1927, Chanel owned five properties on the rue Cambon, encompassing buildings 
numbered 23 through 31.

(Source: famous logos.us)

In 1921 Coco Chanel was introduced to the American film maker, Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn offered to bring Chanel to Hollywood twice a year to design costumes for MGM movie stars. He offered to pay her millions to do this so Chanel accepted his offer. Screen stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo wore her clothes but the experience left Chanel with a distaste for the growing film culture, referring to it as "...infantile" and denouncing Hollywood as "...the capital of bad taste" as well as "...vulgar." It has been widely speculated that Coco Chanel and her designs left Hollywood because she was told that her dresses were not 'sensational' enough.

(Source: Theguardian.com)

Coco Chanel was the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time, but she never married. She had significant relationships with the poet Pierre Reverdythe illustrator and designer Paul Iribe as well as Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster. Ms Chanel is said to have preferred the social circles of the British aristocracy to that of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. It was during this time she developed a strong friendship with Winston ChurchillIn 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Coco Chanel closed her shops, maintaining her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 Rue de Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion. However, as a result of her action, 4,000 female employees lost their jobs. Along with the Duke of Westminster, Ms Chanel’s anti-­Semitism was vociferous and well documented. So it is not really too surprising to discover that whilst 
residing in occupied Paris, Ms Chanel became a mistress of a German Officer.

During the German occupation of France, Chanel resided at the Hotel Ritz. It should also be noted that this was the preferred place of residence for upper-echelon German military staff. Her romantic liaison was with Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer who had been an operative in military intelligence since 1920. He helped to pay for Ms Chanel's 
lifestyle at 'The Ritz'.

(Source: whatgoesaroundnyc.com)

Much has been speculated about Ms Chanel and the notion that she was a German spy. Some believe that she committed herself to the German cause as early as 1941 and worked directly for General Walter Schellenberg, a chief of SS intelligence. This viewpoint has been fuelled with the evidence that at the end of the war, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 owing to incurable liver disease and retreated to Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg's medical care and living expenses, financially supported his wife and family, and paid for Schellenberg's funeral upon his death in 1952. 
A documentary recently released in France went even further, claiming that she spied for the occupiers under the codename “Westminster” and had the Abwehr (German military intelligence) number F-7124.

At the end of the war, 1944, Ms Chanel was summoned to be interrogated by the Free French Purge Committee. The committee concluded they had no documented evidence of her collaboration activity and was therefore obliged to release her. According to Chanel's grand-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when Chanel returned home from the interrogation she said, "...Churchill had me freed".

(Source: thepaisleycurtain.com)

In 1945, Ms Chanel moved to Switzerland, where she lived for several years, part of the time, with von Dinklage. Unlike the pre-war era, women were no longer 'premier couturiers'. Christian Dior achieved success in 1947 with his "New Look", which paved the way for a long line of successful male designers.
At more than 70 years old, after having her couture house closed for 15 years, Ms Chanel felt the time was right for her to re-enter the fashion world yet again. The revival and renovation of her couture house in 1954 was fully financed by Pierre Wertheimer. 
Her new collection was not received well by Parisians, who felt her reputation had been tainted by her wartime association with the Nazis. However, her return to couture was applauded by the British and Americans, who became her long-term, faithful customers.
Coco Chanel died on Sunday, 10th January 1971, aged 87 at the Hotel Ritz, where she had resided for more than 30 years.

Coco Chanel's contribution to the fashion world can not be over stated. Her innovative use of jersey fabric was a success due to a shortage of other fabrics caused by the war, and because she supplied clothing at a time when women required more simple and practical clothes. Her fluid jersey suits and dresses allowed free movement as did her introduction of pants for women. This was greatly appreciated by women who were working for the war effort as nurses, in civil service and in factories. 

(Source: thefmshionzorro.com)

The iconic Chanel tweed suit was designed for comfort and practicality. It consisted of a jacket and skirt in supple and light wool or mohair tweed and a blouse and jacket lining in jersey or silk. Unlike other designers of the day, Ms Chanel did not stiffen the material or use shoulder pads. Jackets were cut on the straight grain, and had no bust darts, allowing for quick and easy movement. She designed the neckline to leave the neck comfortably free and added functional pockets. For an even higher level of comfort, skirts had a 'grosgrain stay' around the waist, instead of a belt. Above all, meticulous attention was placed on detail during fittings. 

It has been reported that Ms Chanel conducted tests with models wearing her suits, having them walk around, step up to a platform as if climbing stairs of an imaginary bus, and bend as if getting into a low-slung sports car. 
Chanel wanted to make sure women could do all of these things while wearing her suit, without accidentally exposing parts of their body they wanted covered. 

(Source: adopt.biz)
After the jersey suit, 'the little black dress' is often cited as a Chanel contribution to the fashion vocabulary. Still worn today, a simple black dress in all it's forms, does not appear to be ever going out of style. 

(Source: pinky pink.org)
In an era when jewellery was strictly categorised into either 'fine' or 'costume' jewellery, Ms Chanel introduced a line of jewellery that was considered a 'conceptual innovation', as her design and materials incorporated both simulated and fine gem stones. Long strings of pearls and cuff bracelets became her signature pieces. Chanel turned costume jewellery into a coveted accessory. Her jewellery line was incredibly successful.

(Source: trades.com)
An article can not be written about Coco Chanel without mentioning the 'Chanel Bag'. In 1929 Chanel offered a handbag inspired by the military with a thin shoulder strap allowing the user to have her hands free. Following her comeback, Chanel updated the design in February 1955, creating what would become the "2.55" (named after the date of its creation).

(Source: the gloss.com)

In the early 1920s, Ms Chanel felt inspired to debut a scent that would ..."epitomise the flapper and speak to the liberated spirit of the 1920s...". Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume launched by Coco Chanel. The chemical formula for the fragrance was compounded by French-Russian chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux. The design of the bottle has often been discussed. She wanted the bottle to be "...pure transparency ... an invisible bottle". It is generally considered, however, that the bottle design was inspired by the rectangular beveled lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles, which were favored by her lover, Arthur Capel

(Source: fashioneyewear.co.uk)

One of the most instantly recognizable emblems in all of Chanel’s accessories, clothing and jewellery lines, is the frequently recurring camellia. It is believed Ms Chanel first fell in love with the camellia after reading Alexandre Dumas’ ‘La Dame aux Camellias.' The story depicts a heroine who always wore a white camellia, showing to the world that her heart remained pure. 
It was also loved by Chanel because, the flower's lack of scent meant it never interfered with her most famous perfume – Chanel No. 5.

It is difficult to decide what sort of person Coco Chanel was. Biographies describe her as 
... "Anti-Semitic, homophobic, a social climber, opportunistic and ridiculously snobbish." 
Apparently she actively collaborated with the Germans during the Nazi occupation of Paris, but still managed to revolutionise women's fashion with the introduction of  'low-regarded' fabrics into women's wardrobes as well as modern, clean and practical lines within her designs. 

Her significant contributions to the world of fashion are often listed as;

The elimination of the corset from women's fashion
The unisex style of dressing
The notion that style could be both classic and casual
The little black dress
Chanel No.5 perfume
Women in sailor tops
The use of red lipstick

Long strings of PearlsCostume jewellery

Coco Chanel is truely a woman of style ...as well as a simply fascinating woman in history.

Here is a flatly I created, inspired by the understated designs and colours of Coco Chanel.

I do love the Chanel lipsticks and lip glosses I own!

This Victorian cuff bracelet is a favourite of mine and was my mother's.

(I don't own Chanel No. 5 perfume but this India Hicks perfume is in a similar shaped bottle!)

So there you have it...

Do you own any Chanel products? Do you find Ms Chanel as interesting as I do?

Let me know!

1 comment

Read Me said...

Love, love, love Coco! What an inspiring and fascinating woman. She was such a force and remains an inspiration! x

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