Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

So I started reading this book about probably the most iconic designer of all times ‘Chanel’ and though I would share some interesting facts about this extravagant woman’s life. Definitely a very complicated but overly charming woman, who has had an enormous influence on the fashion industry as well as on what all of us are wearing today…

Not a full biography, but some things that definitely surprised me :)

  • Chanel was born in 1883 (later she claimed it was 1893, to make herself 10 years younger)
  • Her birth name is Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (her birth certificate has the misspelt name of Chasnel in it, because she was born in a poorhouse hospice which employees were illiterate)
  • She was an illegitimate daughter of itinerant market traders and her mother died when she was 12
  • She was brought up in a nun’s orphanage and thought to sew there
  • She has however reinvented her childhood… she has never admitted being in an orphanage, she says she was thrown into a new life with several aunts, who were all old maids. The aunts were always dressed in black, had dry hands and cold eyes.
  • Interestingly she has said later that she owes the aunts everything. ‘Its the kisses caresses teachers and vitamins that kill children and turn them into unhappy or sickly adults. Its the mean and nasty aunts who create winners’
  • Chanel had three brothers and two sisters, whose existence she denies and has paid them off to pretend they did not exist
  • As a child she often played alone in the graveyard, she thought of it as a secret garden and herself as the queen and defender of its inhabitants. She also talked to the dead. Her own explanation was that she was unloved
  • She was briefly performing as a singer in cafes and concert halls in Vichy and Moulins, when she got herself the nickname of ‘Coco’ after a song that she sang from the soldiers who came to see her
  •  She opened her first shop in Paris in 1910 in Rue Cambon, selling hats (same street where the HQ of Chanel house is to date),with the help of her male friend, who she met when performing
  • She is most famous for her timeless designs, trademark suits and she is the inventor of the LBD (little black dress)
  • She was the first designer to launch a perfume with her name in 1920s (Chanel no 5 is till today the most popular/most sold perfume)
  • She was revolutionizing women clothing, borrowing elements from men’s wear and emphasizing comfort like top with stripes and trousers
  • Before her corsets were the fashion, with huge dresses, skirts and hats, which meant not eating and breathing…
  • Chanel has said ’Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury’
  • Chanel had numerous friends and lovers including Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Duke of Westminster (who was ready to leave his wife for her), Winston Churchill and a nazi officer, but she never got married and had any children
  • His friends/lovers had a big influence on her and her designs, she uses many materials of English and Scottish origin for example (influence from the Duke and het time in England)
  • Chanel was not officially charged for the betrayal of the country (because of the relationship with the nazis), but nevertheless suffered from the court of public opinion and had to move to Switzerland for some years in s sort of exile
  • In the outbreak of WW2 Chanel had to close down the business but made a triumphant return at the age of 70, when her designs won over shoppers around the world
  • 1969 a broadway musical ‘Coco’ came out with Kathrine Hepburn in the leading role
  • When she was in old age a young woman suggested she see a psychiatrist Chanel looked dismayed, ‘I, who never told the truth to my priest?’
  • When she was an old women, living alone and convinced that everybody around her were only out for the money, she was again found in cemeteries, talking to the dead
  • Coco Chanel died in 1971 in het apartment at the Ritz hotel (were she lived the last 30 years) and her apartment was left exactly as it was since her death
  • After about a decade after her death Karl Lagerfeld took the reigns of her company and has continued the legacy
  • In one light she has been regarded as a pioneering feminist – sacrificing a marriage for a career in couture – she was actually baffled by the idea of women in politics. Educated women? ‘A woman’s educations consists of two lessons: never leave the house without stockings and never go out without a hat’

 

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