Gabrielle Chanel (Saumur, 1883 – Paris, 1971), better known to all as Coco Chanel, was a fashion icon and one of the most influential women of the 20th century. The Chanel bag, the black dress, the tweed suit or Chanel No. 5, are just one part of the enormous heritage that Chanel has left in the world of fashion.
But Coco was much more than a designer. She was a flag woman who broke the schemes of a society that found it difficult to look to the future. Intelligent, determined and with a good eye for business, but also erratic, arrogant, and opportunistic. Coco Chanel was full of contradictions that she knew how to maintain from elegance and independence.
The details of the life of this great character are as passionate as his creations and help to understand what the life of Gabrielle Coco Chanel was like. A woman of legend.
Women of Legend: Amelia Earhart
When I was just Gabrielle Chanel
Although Coco frequently lied about her origins, the truth is that her childhood was mired in misery. The daughter of a street vendor and a peasant woman, Gabrielle was the second of a total of 5 siblings. When she was 11 years old her mother passed away and along with her sisters she was sent by her father to the Aubazine monastery. There she was educated by the nuns of the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary. It was during these years that Gabrielle learned to sew and embroider, in addition to receiving a strict Catholic upbringing.
This beautifully austere 12th-century circus abbey had a palpable influence on the tastes and designs of the girl who was to become a fashion icon.
At the age of 18 Gabrille was sent to a boarding school for girls in Moulins. There she met her paternal aunt, Adrienne, only two years older than her and one of her great friends.
Both young women began working in a tailor shop in the city. The wealthy men in the area, who came to the tailor shop, flirted with the two young women and invited them to cabarets and café-concerts. Thus Gabrielle fell in love with show business and began a fleeting career as a singer.
How Gabrielle became Coco Chanel.
In 1902 he began his fleeting career as a singer, entertaining the public at the café La Rotonde de Moulins between performances by the leading artists. Among his regular repertoire were two songs that became very popular: “ Ko ko ri ko ” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco?”. Thus, it was during these years that this graceful and pretty girl, who did not stand out for her voice, but for her charm, began to be known as Coco Chanel.
It was at La Rotonde, in Moulins that Coco met Étienne Balsan, her first lover and the person who would open the doors of the world to her.
Coco Chanel and her first lovers, the men who made her business possible.
Balsan, a wealthy heir and cavalry officer, introduced Coco to the world of high society and luxury. The models that she presented at the events she attended broke with the Belle Epoque style. This style, ornate, baroque and with the corset as an indispensable element, was overwhelmed by a fresh, elegant, simple and comfortable style. The Chanel style.
It was Balsan who financed the first Chanel hat store in Paris. It opened in 1909 and was a great success. So much so that a year later he opened his fashion house, Chanel Models on the legendary Rue de Cambon in Paris.
Thanks to Balsan, in 1911 Coco met English captain Arthur Capel. This would become her lover and would continue to finance the opening of new stores. This man was important in English high society. It would open the doors to new markets for Coco in England and the United States.
In 1916 it appeared for the first time in Vogue magazine. The reason was the presentation of his first fall collection. He became very popular after opening shops in Deuville or Biarritz, resting places for wealthy people from all over Europe, and this was his big leap.
From that moment on, their models began to be sold in stores in the United States and England. She became an internationally renowned designer.
In 1919 her lover, Capel, died in an accident that definitely marked Coco. She declared years later that “what followed his death was not a life of happiness.” This sad event inspired the famous design of the little black dress, a classic brand of the Chanel firm and as fashionable today as then.
Coco Chanel, her consecration in fashion and her influential friends.
After Capel’s death, Coco devoted herself body and soul to her business and along the way, in addition to impressive creations, she also accumulated a good number of influential friends.
In 1920 he met Igor Stravinsky, whom he would accompany and help in his creations, and with whom he would collaborate in the creation of the designs for some of his works.
In 1923 she began a relationship with the Duke of Westminster himself, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor , which would last a whopping 10 years and which would make Coco Chanel an important piece within the strict English aristocracy. Rumors also say that, during this period, she had a brief affair with the Prince of Wales, Edward of Windsor (who would become King Edward VIII of England), even though she was also in relationships with her cousin.
It was Grosvernor who introduced him to Winston Churchill, with whom he maintained a friendship that would last for the rest of his life. Also Demetrius Romanov, cousin of the Tsar of Russia, was part of his circle of friends, thanks, of course, to the Duke of Westminster.
And among so many important friends, the great Hollywood artists could not be absent. Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich, were private clients of Chanel. Samuel Goldwyn, one of the most influential producers, was also a faithful friend of Chanel. Without forgetting the great European cinema, like Jean Renoir or Luchino Visconti.
Thus, between 1920 and the beginning of World War II, both Coco Chanel’s business and agenda grew exponentially.
Coco Chanel and her collaboration with the Nazis.
When the Second World War began, Chanel closed all its stores, but remained in Paris. He lived in the Ritz Hotel, known for hosting the Nazi high command. In those years she had a love affair with a German officer, a member of the intelligence. For years there were rumors that pointed to Coco as a spy and collaborator. His demonstrations against homosexuals and Jews – despite having great Jewish friends – did not help either. When the war ended, she was repeatedly questioned and accused of collaboration with the Nazis, but nothing could ever be proven.
Even so, her reputation in France was seriously damaged and Coco decided to move to Switzerland in 1945.
The return of Coco Chanel
It was in 1954 that Chanel returned to Paris and reopened her fashion house. Although his first collections were not well received in a Paris that did not forget his collaboration with the Nazis. However, Chanel achieved significant successes in the United States and the United Kingdom. Over time, I return to the top of fashion around the world.
Considered one of the icons of fashion, she had an emblematic and exciting life. Although, she never considered herself a happy woman. Hooked on morphine since the 1930s, Coco Chanel died in 1971, after a few years of loneliness and illness.