In this success story, we will share the biography of Coco Chanel, a very talented and creative fashion designer who changed the world of fashion. The story will captivate you from the first lines. Enjoy reading Coco Chanel’s life story on AstrumPeople.
Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971) is an outstanding French fashion designer and creator of the fashion empire of the XX century. She is the founder of The House of Chanel. Her net worth is $15 billion. Her real name is Gabrielle Chanel.
“Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear.” this is the famous quotation from Oscar Wilde. Coco Chanel disproved it in the mid-20s of the previous century, which stated that fashion was the “little black dress.” Her authority was so great that women from different social classes unhesitatingly wore Chanel clothing.
Early Life, Career, and First Love
We know very little about Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel’s childhood. Gabrielle was born on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France, to the family of fair trader Albert Chanel and his girlfriend Eugénie Jeanne Devolle. He married Jeanne Devolle several years after Coco Chanel was born. They did not have a permanent place to live. If things went well, they allowed themselves to have a primitive farm and settled down in some old abandoned shack, which people tried to get around. Her mother was a laundrywoman in the charity hospital owned by the Sisters of Providence, and her father was a street vendor who sold haberdashery goods on the street market.
The legendary Mademoiselle Chanel had been shy of her miserable childhood all her life. She was afraid reporters could find out about her extramarital origins, her mother’s death from bronchitis at 31, or her father, who gave up having passed Gabrielle in a shelter at 12. Coco Chanel even invented her story that when her mother died, her father sailed for America, and she lived in a cozy and clean house with two strict aunts, who in reality did not exist.If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing. – Coco Chanel Click To Tweet
Having learned sewing arts during her six years at Aubazine shelter, Coco Chanel was able to find a job as a seamstress. When not plying her trade with a needle and thread, she was singing in a cabaret “La Rotonde” frequented by cavalry officers. There, Gabrielle acquired her nickname, “Coco.” It is derived from the famous song “Qui Qu’a Vu Coco?” that she used to sing.
In her early twenties, Coco Chanel concluded that money was the main thing in life. In 1905, when a young and wealthy bourgeois Étienne Balsan came into her life, Coco Chanel hung around his neck. In her eyes, he was the real man with money and could spend it quickly. Coco took full advantage of her new life when she settled in her lover’s castle. She was lying in bed until noon, drinking coffee with milk and reading cheap novels. However, Étienne did not think Coco was the woman who was worth spending big money on.
In the spring of 1908, Coco Chanel met with a friend of Balsan, Captain Arthur Edward “Boy” Capel CBE, an English polo player with straight black hair and a dull complexion. Arthur Capel advised Coco to open a vending hat shop and promised financial support. Later, he would become her business partner and personal life partner.
However, she was obliged to Étienne Balsan, who helped to start her career. Étienne wanted to involve his bothered girlfriend in any matter under the pretext of evicting her from his castle. Coco settled in his bachelor apartment on the Malesherbes Boulevard in Paris, where he usually had fun with his girlfriends. It was the place where Coco began making and selling her hats. Interestingly, all the former mistresses of Étienne became the first clients of Mademoiselle Chanel. They also expanded the range of her clients to their friends. Things went very well, and soon, this bachelor apartment became too small.
The First Glory of Chanel
At the end of 1910, Coco Chanel finally broke up with Étienne Balsan and began to live with Captain “Boy” Capel. In 1910, Coco became a licensed modiste (hat maker) and opened a Chanel Modes boutique on 21 Rue Cambon in Paris. Soon, the street became known worldwide and had been linked to her name for half a century.
In 1913, Coco Chanel opened her boutique in Deauville, quickly attracting regular clients. The creator of the famous hats dreamt of developing her line of women’s clothing. At this time, she had no right to make a ‘real’ women’s dress, as she could be brought to justice for illegal competition because she was not a licensed dressmaker. Coco found the solution. She started sewing jersey fabric dresses, which had only been used for men’s underwear, and earned her first capital. Coco Chanel’s close family members have always been supportive. One was her sister, Antoinette Chanel, and her aunt, Adrienne Chanel. Both of the girls Coco recruited to model Chanel’s designs and advertise Chanel’s fashion clothes.
All of her dress discoveries were born that way. While designing, Coco did not excel herself but simplified details. She did not draw her sketches of clothing and did not sew them. Usually, Coco threw a cloth on a mannequin, then cut and slaughtered a shapeless mass of material until the desired silhouette was manifested.
Chanel quickly became the world fashion designer, turning over the spotlight. She created a style that had been previously unthinkable for women – tracksuits. She dared to appear in a sailor suit and tight skirt on the beaches of seaside resorts. The style produced by The House of Chanel was simple, practical, and elegant. However, in 1914, the World War I began. There was chaos and the ‘feast during the plague’ in France. Coco continued to work vigorously, presenting new demands for clothing and generating new ideas: Chanel’s first female skinny suit. A couple of years later, she sewed a redingote without a belt and ornaments, removing the bust and curves with almost masculine stringency. She created an understated waist, dress shirt, pants for women, and beach pajamas.In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different. – Coco Chanel Click To Tweet
Even though The House of Chanel introduced the fashion women’s pants, Coco wore them rarely, as she believed a woman would never look in the pants as good as a man would. However, she liked a short man’s hairstyle. The reason is simple – short hair is easier to take care of. Once, Coco cut her hair and proudly walked out into the world, explaining that everything in her house caught fire and burned her curls. Therefore, in 1917, a trend for short men’s hairstyles among women was prevalent. Before the Coco Chanel’s action, women had to be longhaired.
In 1919, when her beloved Arthur “Boy” Capel died in a car accident, Coco Chanel said: “Either I die as well. Or I finish what we started together.” If this tragedy had not happened in Chanel’s life, she would have never started experimenting with black clothes. Some people say that she brought black color clothes into vogue to make all women in France mourn for her beloved. Coco was not allowed to mourn officially, as she was not married to Arthur Capel.
The Birth of Chanel No. 5 Perfume
In the summer of the 1920s, Coco Chanel opened a big fashion house in Biarritz. Later, she met with a Russian émigré, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and they both felt a mutual passion for each other. The romance was short but fruitful. Coco learned many new ideas from her exotic lover. How could she forget his stories about the treasures of the Muscovite tsar or the luxury of ecclesiastical vestments?
Moreover, parts of the Russian folk costume shirts with original embroidery were in her new collection after this meeting. The most noteworthy is that during the road tour in France, Dmitri Pavlovich introduced Coco to a Russian perfumer, Ernest Beaux, when they stopped in Grasse town. Ernest’s father had worked for many years at the imperial court.
The meeting was fruitful for both of them. After a year of hard work and long-term experiments, Ernest placed ten samples before Coco and divided them into two groups. Ernest Beaux numbered from one through five in the first half and the second one – from twenty through twenty-four. Coco chose sample No. 5; when Beaux asked her why, Coco Chanel replied: “I always launch my collection on the 5th day of the 5th month, so the number 5 seems to bring me luck – therefore, I will name it No. 5”.
The marketing policy of The House Of Chanel was targeted at celebrities. This choice was not accidental: in the list of clients who wore Chanel No. 5 perfume were the most beautiful women of the century. Chanel No. 5 was a favorite perfume of Jacqueline Kennedy. However, unwittingly, Marilyn Monroe invaluably promoted “Chanel.” Moreover, she did it free. In the early 1950s, in one of the interviews, Marilyn said that all she wore in bed was a few drops of Chanel No. 5 perfume. A few days later, her statement skyrocketed Chanel’s No. 5 perfume sales.
Designers spilled the golden liquid into a crystal bottle with a modest rectangular label that looked to them like a peculiar solution; usually, perfume bottles had intricate shapes. As a result, the world had a ‘perfume for women that smelt like a woman.’ It was the first synthetic perfume with eighty components that did not repeat the smell of a particular flower, as it had been earlier. The success experienced by its creators – Chanel No. 5 is still the best-selling perfume in the world.A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future. – Coco Chanel Click To Tweet
The Little Black Dress
By the early 20s, the world almost ended up fighting for gender inequality. Women had a legal right to work, vote, and have abortions, but at the same time, they lost their face. Fashion was going through a situation where, due to the sad egalitarianism, women’s clothing began to lose its sexiness and sophistication.
Coco Chanel reached this point and successfully combined incredible details in her models with revolutionary innovations and defiant femininity. She invented the famous “little black dress,” which seemed, at first glance, artless, rustic garb, and impersonal. This decisive step brought the 44-year-old designer worldwide fame and made her find a symbol of elegance, luxury, and good taste.
The first models of the dresses were made of forgotten fluid crepe marocain, knee-length, straight cut with narrow sleeves to the wrists. An incredibly accurate, adjusted, and revolutionary skirt-cutting length distinguished them from others. By the way, Coco Chanel believed that the bottom of the dress did not have to be lifted above the knee because not all women could boast flawless beauty of this part of the body. More expensive cocktail dresses had V-shaped notches, and evening dresses had a profound neckline at the back. It was supposed to wear long strings of pearls or colored jewelry, boas, little jackets, and tiny hats with such types of dresses.
The little black dress quickly became a cult clothing and acquired a status symbol. It had often been copied, redesigned, and retailored. Companies and fashion houses still produce this dress around the world. The popularity of this dress is incredible. New interpretations of this dress appear nowadays, so we can confidently say that this dress will never go out of style.A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous. – Coco Chanel Click To Tweet
While exploring Coco Chanel’s biography, we learned that in her early 20s, she got involved in jewelry design. The idea to mix crystals and natural stones in a single product came not only to her. However, she was the first to give life to this idea. Coco actively communicated with the world of Parisian bohemia. She visited ballet performances and met with the artist Pablo Picasso, the famous ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the composer Igor Stravinsky, the poet Pierre Reverdy, and the playwright Jean Cocteau. Many famous people sought to communicate with the well-known fashion designer out of curiosity and were surprised to find Coco an intelligent, witty, and original-thinking woman. Once, Picasso called her the most sensible woman in the world.
Coco’s appearance and unpredictable behavior attracted men, as did her extraordinary personal qualities, strong character, and erratic behavior. Coco was irresistibly flirty, extremely sharp, straightforward, and even cynical. She looked purposeful, confident, contented, and a successful woman.
Love Affair with Hugh Grosvenor
Later on, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, GCVO, DSO (familiarly “Bendor”), came into the life of Coco Chanel. He was a British landowner and one of the wealthiest men in the world. Their love affair had lasted for 14 years. This unusually long love affair led Coco into a different environment – the world of British aristocracy.
From 1926 to 1930, the Duke of Westminster was her most welcomed guest. She believed all along that their love would be crowned with marriage. Coco saw the long-awaited final refuge in each house where the Duke took her. They often left England and traveled on his yachts. Usually, Hugh Grosvenor invited about sixty guests to his estate on weekends. Among them were Winston Churchill, his wife, and close friends of the Duke. They had dinners with live musical accompaniment; sometimes, he even invited a theater from London.
Sir Winston Churchill did not hide his enthusiastic impressions, he admired Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and considered her of the most intelligent, nice and very strong women, with whom he has ever had to deal with.
The well-known politician and statesman, not in vain, called attention to these personality traits of Coco Chanel, such as determination, willpower, and desire for independence: they brought her to international success.
If she had given birth to the heir of the Duke, she would have become his wife. Before 1928, while his passion was strong, he was willing to marry her, too. Coco was 46 when she began visiting doctors, but it was too late – nature opposed her dream. The Duke of Westminster suffered no less than his beloved woman but was forced to marry another.
Coco Chanel’s head went back to work. The success accompanied her in all endeavors. She was at the zenith of her fame, and despite her age (she was already over 50), men found her very attractive.
A Ten-Year Pause in Fashion Career
In 1939, despite the enormous success of her fashion clothing, Coco was forced to close all her shops and the House of Fashion due to World War II. Many designers left the country, but Coco left in Paris. In September 1944, Coco Chanel was arrested on the Committee on Public Morals initiative. The reason was the love affair of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel with Walther Friedrich Schellenberg, German SS-Brigadeführer. A few hours after her detention, she was released. Shortly after that, Coco Chanel moved to Switzerland, where she has lived for almost ten years.
Coco had a love affair with Walther Friedrich Schellenberg, German SS-Brigadeführer, during the WW II.
After World War II, designers appeared like mushrooms after the rain in postwar France. One of them, a young fashion designer, Christian Dior, commented about Coco Chanel’s design: “With a black pullover and ten rows of pearls, she revolutionized fashion.”
Return to the Fashion World
After the war, Christian Dior dressed up women like flowers. He dressed them in crinoline, tightened their waist, and filled numerous thigh folds. Coco Chanel laughed at this ‘hyper-femininity’: “Look how ridiculous these women are, wearing clothes by a man who doesn’t know women, never had one, and dreams of being one.”
When Coco Chanel returned from Switzerland to Paris, it was full of a generation of fashionistas convinced that “Chanel” is a brand of perfumes. She rented a small two-room apartment at her favorite hotel, the Ritz in Paris.
Coco got involved in the fashion industry again. When Marlene Dietrich asked Coco Chanel why she needed it, she explained that she was dying of boredom.
The first reaction of experts and the press to a new collection of Coco Chanel was shock and outrage – she could not offer anything new! Alas, the critics failed to understand that this was precisely her secret: nothing new, only an eternal, timeless elegance. Coco took revenge for a year. The collection that failed miserably in Paris was slightly revised and shown overseas. Americans gave her an ovation. There was a triumph of the little black dress in the United States. It was an honor for a new generation of fashionable women to wear Chanel clothes. Coco became a tycoon, managing the most prominent fashion house in the fashion industry.
During these years, she created the Pink Chanel suit. On November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, his wife wore a double-breasted, strawberry pink and navy trim collared Chanel wool suit. In the 1960s, the Pink Chanel suit became a symbol of her husband’s assassination and one of the iconic items of fashion. The suit has often been shamelessly copied to the last braid, to the last golden button and stitching. Nevertheless, the name of Coco Chanel is more than a suit.
Once Coco Chanel said: “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”
The world has recognized her as the only trendsetter of refined elegance. Chanel’s style concept is firmly anchored in the fashion industry. Chanel’s style means that a suit should be functional and comfortable. If a Chanel suit has buttons, they certainly should be buttoned. A Chanel suit is usually worn with low-heeled-toe cross-strap shoes. Chanel designed a skirt with pockets below the knee where a businesswoman could put a cigarette case. By the way, the idea of wearing a bag over the shoulder also belongs to Mademoiselle Coco.
Coco Chanel maintained an incredible performance until old age. New fashion ideas came to her mind even in her sleep. The secret to the success of this fantastic brand lies in its roots. From the beginning, The House of Chanel sold the art of living, not only clothing for women.
Coco Chanel could not die during a working time. She could not let this happen. On January 10, 1971, she died quietly in the hotel room of Ritz with a window view of the luxuriously decorated The House of Chanel. As of 2014, Chanel’s revenue reached $7.43 billion. When Coco Chanel died, only three dresses were found in her wardrobe. However, they were “very stylish attires,” as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel would have said. We hope you have enjoyed exploring a complete biography of Coco Chanel – the Woman who changed the world of fashion.
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