I remember when I was studying fashion history at uni and learning about all the greats of the industry that Chanel was the one designer I couldn’t warm to. Watching documentaries of her life and influences on fashion, I thought this woman to be ruthless. She seemed quite horrid to her staff and models and I remember thinking what an awful woman she was. It’s taken some years for me to understand why she was like this, and the true genius and inspiration that she really is. I can now happily say, I am one of Chanel’s biggest supporters.
Gabrielle Chanel, or Coco as she was nicknamed, has been instrumental in the world of fashion. From humble beginnings, she rose to be one of the true couturiers, and not only once, but twice she broke the fashion mould to become the most famous and sought after designer. There has been a lot of mystery surrounding Chanel’s early life, mostly bought on by herself, as she told different people different stories about her childhood. We do know however, that she was born in a small French town called Saumur in 1883, and at age 12 went to live in an orphanage after her mother’s death. It was while living in this convent that she first discovered her talent for needlework. Once Chanel was old enough to leave the convent, she moved to Moulins, and was given a job with her Aunt in a draper store. While honing her sewing skills by day, Chanel performed as a singer by night. But her love for fashion was much stronger and with the help of her lover, Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, she opened her very first store around the age of twenty. It was a millinery store that attracted wealthy women from far and wide, and soon you could see Chanel creations perched on the crowns of many a fashionable woman at glamourous jazz parties.
The clothing empire soon followed when many of Chanel’s clients would ask her where she got her wardrobe from. “I can make you one”, was often her response, and so was born the House of Chanel. Her business ventures were hugely successful and by the early 1920’s, Chanel boutiques where spreading across France. She was the first designer to develop a perfume and have it named after her, and the scent Chanel No. 5 is still one of the most popular fragrances today, and one of my favourites too!
Today, over 100 years since Chanel first broke onto the fashion scene, her name and legacy lives on. This inspirational designer gave us many of the looks and styles that we still wear today, like the little black dress or a tweed suit. Chanel’s colour palette has also remained much the same over the decades, with black, white and beige being her signature colours, with accents of gold and red along the way. Also synonymous with the Chanel brand are the interlinking double ‘C’ logo, quilted leather, strands of pearls and gold chains, as well as the gamine silhouette and two toned ballet slippers. Many a famous Hollywood celebrity would become Chanel fans also, such as Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy.
But it was the rise of World War 2 that forced the closure of the House of Chanel in 1939, and saw almost 3000 staff lose their jobs. Chanel stuck out the war years living in Paris, and once it was over in 1944, fled to Switzerland where she remained for almost a decade. In 1954 she returned to Paris and reopened the House of Chanel, and for a second time, became one of the most famous designers to have ever graced us. She bought back her timeless styles and silhouettes, draping her designs directly onto mannequins and never sketching an idea first.
The legacy that Chanel built has lived on today since her death in 1971. Since taking the reins in 1983, Karl Largerfeld has ensured the House of Chanel is still one of the most recognised and iconic brands of the fashion industry. Chanel never saw a ready to wear collection be produced in her time, with the first one coming from the House of Chanel in 1978. The Chanel empire now includes not only women’s clothing, but also menswear, cosmetics and jewellery. There are Chanel boutiques worldwide, confirming the global brand it has grown into. If you ever find yourself in Paris, make sure you visit 31 Rue Cambon and see where it all began!
In an industry that is now over run by trends, the House of Chanel remains a classic. Whether it be that little black dress or a tweed suit, one can never go wrong when following the unmistakable elegance that is Chanel.
Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx