Coco Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France. Her mother died when Chanel was 12 years old, and her father sent her and her two sisters to live in an orphanage. The nuns taught her how to sew, which sparked her interest in fashion design.
At age 18, Chanel worked in a tailor shop where she gained experience making clothes. She also sang at a cabaret where she earned the nickname “Coco” due to the popular songs she performed about a girl named Coco.
Rise to Fame as a Fashion Designer
In 1910, Chanel opened her first shop in Paris called Chanel Modes. She sold hats and gained a reputation for her elegant styles made with simple fabrics and details.
Her big break came in 1915 when she opened her first couture house selling clothing, hats and accessories. She pioneered new designs like the Chanel suit – a boxy jacket and slim skirt made of tweed – that gave women a sporty and modern look.
By the 1920s, Chanel was one of the leading names in Paris couture fashion with her modern, casual, and sporty style. She introduced easy-to-wear jersey fabric dresses, bell-bottom pants for women, costume jewelry, and the famous Chanel No. 5 – the first true floral abstract perfume.
Events and Accomplishments
Chanel led a fascinating life filled with love affairs, fame, tragedy, and drama. Here is a timeline of key events and milestones from her story:
|Opened first shop selling hats
|Opened first couture house
|Iconic designer of modern Paris fashion with signature styles like the Chanel suit
|Launched the Chanel No. 5 perfume
|Founded fashion house Maison Chanel selling couture clothing
|Closed fashion houses during WWII occupation of France
|Re-launched fashion career, pioneered bell-bottom pants for women
|Introduced shoulder bag with gold chain strap – the 2.55 handbag, an iconic Chanel design still popular today
|Passed away in Paris at age 88
Throughout her long career, Chanel’s designs challenged conventions about what was acceptable for women to wear. She gave women functional, comfortable, and chic styles for modern life. Her boxy jackets with gold button details became a signature look.
She was also a savvy businesswoman – she negotiated ownership rights to all Chanel products including perfumes, jewelry, accessories. By the time of her death, her fashion empire was worth over $100 million.
Personal Life and Relationships
Chanel led a private life but had a few famous affairs with wealthy and influential men.
In the early 1920s, she was the mistress of the Duke of Westminster – the richest man in Britain. He reportedly showered her with lavish jewels and gems. It was during this relationship that she became inspired to design faux jewelry to “make it possible for every woman to afford a bit of Chanel elegance.”
She also had an affair in the 1920s with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, the cousin of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Thanks to these relationships with wealthy elites, Chanel gained financial backing that helped launch her early careers and couture houses in Paris.
When WWII began, Chanel had an affair with a German military officer, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage. She was criticized for staying comfortably in Paris’s Ritz hotel during the war and having relations with the enemy. After the war ended, she fled to Switzerland due to public scorn and threats of being charged with treason.
In her later years she never married, claiming: “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.”
Comeback and Final Years in Fashion
In the 1950s after a hiatus of over a decade, Chanel decided to relaunch her fashion career at age 70. She hired young designer Karl Lagerfeld to modernize her looks. He kept her signature details – nipped waist jackets with gold buttons, padded shoulders, slim skirts – while introducing new styles like bell-bottom pants and layered dress-over-trousers ensembles.
Chanel’s comeback was a great success as she won over a new generation of followers with her modern-vintage designs. She led her firm until her death in 1971 at age 88.
The House of Chanel thrives today as an iconic luxury brand under Lagerfeld’s creative vision and its current head designer Virginie Viard who continues Coco’s legacy. The brand remains ever popular due to the timeless elegance of Chanel’s creative fashion designs from her storied life and career.
Who were Coco Chanel’s parents?
Coco Chanel’s father was Albert Chanel, a street vendor who peddled work clothes and undergarments. He never married Coco’s mother, Eugénie Jeanne Devolle, who was a laundry woman who worked in a poorhouse. With their unstable jobs, Chanel’s parents struggled to support their five children.
After her mother died at age 33 when Chanel was just 12, her father eventually abandoned their family. Chanel and her sisters were sent to live in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. This austere upbringing and lonely childhood greatly influenced her design style centered on creating simple but beautiful clothes made of humble fabrics – an aesthetic echoing the nun’s modest dresses.
Was Coco Chanel really an orphan?
Yes, Coco Chanel was technically an orphan. After her mother died when Chanel was 12, her father left his six children. He sent his daughters to live in an orphanage convent called Aubazine run by strict Catholic nuns. The boys were sent to work on farms as laborers.
The stark orphan life deeply shaped Coco’s outlook and design philosophy. The nuns at Aubazine taught her how to sew, which sparked her interest in fashion and making clothes. The plain black and white fashions worn by the nuns became an inspiration for the refined color palette and clean-lined style of Chanel’s iconic designs.
So while she was abandoned by her destitute parents who couldn’t care for their children, the orphanage played an important role in setting young Chanel on the path to becoming one of the most influential designers in fashion history.
What was Coco Chanel’s big break in the fashion industry?
Coco Chanel always held an interest in designing hats and clothes. While working as a club singer in 1909, she supplemented her income by designing hats. A turn of events helped catapult the unknown hat maker to fame and success in fashion.
In 1910, Chanel met and fell in love with French ex-cavalry officer and wealthy textile heir Etienne Balsan. She moved into his château where she gained access to the elite social circles. Balsan financed Coco’s first shop “Chanel Modes” where she sold flamboyant hats to fashionable women.
Her big break came when she began an affair in 1913 with Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel – an English aristocrat and polo-player friend of Balsan’s. Capel helped finance Coco’s first couture shop in Paris in 1915. Her women’s sportswear style using humble fabrics like jersey knit gained popularity. By 1919, Coco was the talked-about fashion designer in Paris, on her way to legendary success in the industry thanks to her well-connected loves who bankrolled her early ventures.
What perfume did Coco Chanel create?
The signature perfume Coco Chanel developed is Chanel No. 5. She worked on it in 1920 with renowned perfumer Ernest Beaux on her quest to create ” a synthetic perfume that would imprint the essence of a woman.”
Beaux presented her with sample fragrances numbered 1 to 5 and Chanel chose bottle no. 5.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel lived an extraordinary life as she revolutionized women’s fashion. She overcame a difficult childhood in an orphanage to become one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers.
Her ingenious vision merged style with ease to craft looks that allowed women flexibility and comfort in their modern lives. She introduced versatile jersey fabric dresses, menswear-inspired boxy jackets, costume jewelry, bell-bottom pants, and the beloved Chanel No. 5 perfume.
Through all the fame and fluctuations of fortune, Coco stayed fiercely true to her design aesthetic centered on beautiful simplicity. Her signature black and white color palette with clean lines reflects the austerity of her childhood convent orphanage.
Today the House of Chanel remains a powerhouse global luxury brand worth billions – a testament to the timeless elegance and liberation Coco Chanel gave to modern fashion. Her looks still inspire top designers today.
Thanks to her brilliance and tenacity, Coco Chanel rose from humble beginnings to become Queen of the Fashion world who freed women from the shackles of corsets and conformity. She proved clothes can be both chic and comfortable by making simplicity sublime.