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Coco Chanel | The Timeless

“There's no fashion if it doesn't hit the streets”

Gabrielle Chanel

Malraux said of Chanel that she was, along with de Gaulle and Picasso, among the great figures of our time. Coco Chanel will forever bear the name that instantly evokes elegance, sophistication and revolution in the world of fashion. This visionary left an indelible mark on the industry, creating a legacy that endures to this day.

On September 16, 2023, an exhibition dedicated to Coco Chanel was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was the opportunity to portray this French icon, always driven by a resolutely modern conception of elegance.

The Youth of Coco Chanel

“Luxury is not the opposite of poverty but that of vulgarity.”

La jeunesse de Coco Chanel

Gabrielle known as Coco Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur (FRANCE). An illegitimate child, Coco Chanel will never stop hiding her origins. Born to a hawker father and a seamstress mother, she had a modest, even poor, childhood, which will probably mark her ambition and determination.

At the age of 12, she was entrusted to the Catholic orphanage of Aubazine, in Corrèze. It was at this time that she learned to sew.

The nickname “Coco” attributed to Gabrielle Chanel has several origins. Some say that it was because she sang “Qui qu’a vu Coco dans l’Trocadéro” in the café-concerts of Vichy that her nickname stuck to her.

Coco Chanel & Etienne Balsan - 1906
Coco Chanel & Etienne Balsan - 1906

She would later meet Étienne Balsan, a wealthy cavalry officer, who introduced her to the lifestyle of the upper classes and allowed her access to higher social circles.

Coco Chanel would later meet the wealthy heir Arthur “Boy” Capel who gave her even more freedom and financial independence. Capel was an important financial and emotional supporter of Chanel, encouraging her to open her first hat boutique in Paris in 1910 and then expand her business to clothing design.

Coco Chanel et Arthur “Boy” Capel - 1971
Coco Chanel & Arthur “Boy” Capel - 1971

Coco Chanel will leave the orphanage at 18. Already at this time, she stood out for her very simple outfits, borrowed from men's fashion. She quickly set up as a milliner at 160 boulevard Malesherbes, where her refined creations marked a break with the overloaded style of the time.

Coco Chanel et les chapeaux

Chanel's rise in the fashion world is based on her ability to rethink women's clothing of the time. She rejects corsets and dresses overloaded with embellishments in favor of simple, elegant and functional clothing. Her vision of fashion was influenced by her own aesthetic, as well as her desire to free women from the restrictive sartorial constraints of her time. She freed herself from codes so well that she had the particularity of designing sets without ever drawing.

Les débuts de Coco Chanel

After her first hat workshop in Paris, she finally opened a boutique in Deauville in 1913. It was again at this time that her simplicity aroused the interest of a wealthy clientele. This success allowed him, in 1915, to open a second store, in Biarritz, which was at the time the stronghold of Tout-Paris.

Between the wars, she was seen as a modern woman, close to Cocteau, Colette or Dali. She also created costumes for four plays by Cocteau (including Antigone in 1922). In the 1930s, she contributed to several Jean Renoir films, including Rules of the Game (1939).

Coco Chanel & Salvador Dali
Coco Chanel & Salvador Dali - 1937

Coco Chanel, as an authoritarian businesswoman, will soon be at the head of a company which will have, in 1936, more than 4,000 employees. Her ambition was marked very early on by a desire to reform the way of life of women : short hair, tanned, she is her own muse by appearing in beach pajamas or bridge pants.

Its ambition allows it to expand and spread this desire for revolution, beyond fashion. Coco wants to touch all spheres of feminine elegance, jewelry and perfumes. She will be interested, very early on, in what complements clothing.

La Petite Robe Noire

“If a woman is poorly dressed, we notice her dress, but if she is impeccably dressed, we notice her.”

La Petite Robe Noire de Chanel

Among Coco Chanel's many contributions to fashion, the creation of the little black dress remains one of the most iconic. In 1926, she presented this timeless piece which quickly became a must-have in women's wardrobes. The elegant simplicity of the black dress challenged the conventions of its time, offering women a refined alternative to the extravagant outfits of the time (usually long, corseted dresses).

This piece marks a break with the contemporary interpretation from which the color black could suffer, then a symbol of darkness and sadness (even more so after the First World War). It is characterized by its simple and refined cut. Its length is usually just above the knee, and its color is a deep, intense black. It is often devoid of frills and ornaments, which gives it a timeless elegance.

The little black dress still remains a symbol of emancipation for women today. In this divide, Coco Chanel allowed women to feel more free and independent to the point where La Petite Robe Noire was an immediate success. Its simplicity and elegance make it a versatile piece that can be worn for any occasion, from day to evening.

This piece has also inspired generations of fashion designers. From Yves Saint Laurent to Karl Lagerfeld, via Jean-Paul Gaultier: everyone has reinterpreted this iconic piece in their own way.

Romy Schneider en robe noire
Romy Schneider - 1962

Chanel n°5

"A poorly perfumed woman has no future." (Paul Valéry)

Flacon de Chanel n°5

In 1921, Coco launched Chanel N°5, created by Ernest Beaux, which marked the beginning of prolific activity for the House. This perfume will become one of the most famous in the world. The innovation lies in the simplicity of the bottle and the complexity of the perfume itself, marking the start of a new era in the perfume industry.

The number "5" refers to the number of the perfume sample that Coco Chanel chose among other proposed compositions, presented by Ernest Beaux. Legend has it that she then chose the fifth sample, hence the name "N°5".

Publicité du Chanel N°5 - 1937
Publicité du Chanel N°5 - 1937

Perfume N°5 was innovative in many ways. It was one of the first perfumes to use synthetic notes in addition to natural ingredients, which gave it remarkable complexity and longevity. Its composition is a combination of abstract floral notes, aldehyde notes, notes of rose, jasmine, sandalwood and vanilla, among others.

The Chanel N°5 bottle has also become iconic. Designed by Coco Chanel herself, it is elegant, refined and instantly recognizable, with its simple design and clean lines. The bottle was inspired by the geometric shapes of Bauhaus, a contemporary artistic and architectural movement of the time.

The launch of Chanel N°5 was a landmark event in the world of perfumery. Coco Chanel revolutionized the industry by creating a perfume that was modern, bold and timeless. Its innovative advertising, notably with the famous actress Marilyn Monroe who was said to wear nothing other than a few drops of Chanel No. 5 to sleep, contributed to its worldwide fame.

Chanel celebrated the timelessness of its fragrance in 2022.

Over the decades, Chanel N°5 has remained an iconic perfume, continually revisited in new interpretations and incarnations. It remains a symbol of the timeless elegance and luxury associated with the Chanel brand, and continues to captivate perfume lovers around the world.

Feminine Independence by the Woman Suit

"Fashion fades, only style remains.”

Tailleur Chanel - 1961
Tailleur Chanel - 1961

Non-conformist by nature, Coco opposed the supremacy of the New Look driven by Dior in the 1920s (which she considered retrograde) and pushed the revolution in women's fashion by introducing more comfortable and refined silhouettes, abandoning corsets and excessive ornaments. The Chanel suit, consisting of a fitted jacket and a straight skirt and comfortable fabrics such as wool and tweed. This piece will become a symbol of modern elegance and transform the way women dress. The American public will applaud this audacity, which the French press will decry, for a time, however.

Ines de la Fressange égérie de Chanel
Ines de la Fressange égérie de Chanel

This suit will have the ability to be worn in all circumstances, summer and winter. Its shape having been designed to allow ease of movement, which for Coco was the key to elegance.

The introduction of the Chanel suit had a lasting impact on women's fashion, and its influence is still felt today. The Chanel suit has become a timeless classic, and the brand's subsequent designs continue this heritage, while continuing to innovate and evolve with contemporary trends.

A timeless and alive Legacy

“To be irreplaceable, you have to be different.”

Coco Chanel à Paris
Coco Chanel à Paris

At the dawn of the Second World War, Coco Chanel closed her household to move to the Ritz. After a 15-year retirement in Switzerland, Coco, then aged 71, reopened her Maison in 1954.

When she died in 1971, Mademoiselle Chanel left behind a considerable empire. Its first workshops ensured the continuity of haute couture, while respecting its tradition. In 1978, a ready-to-wear department was established, and was headed by Philippe Guibourgué before Karl Lagerfeld became artistic director in 1983.

Under the leadership of Karl Lagerfeld, the entire legacy left by Coco is revisited. The thought persists that Lagerfeld remained in the mind of Mademoiselle Chanel, irreverently rejuvenating the image of the house's clients.

Coco Chanel - 1960
Coco Chanel - 1960

Coco Chanel remains an iconic figure in 20th century fashion and history, and her influence continues today. Her timeless style continues to inspire fashion designers around the world, and the Chanel brand remains one of the most prestigious and influential fashion houses in the fashion industry.



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