This post was a collection from various researches on Wikipedia, Biography.com, and The TIME. Enjoy!
To know about the history of Chanel, we have to discuss about the woman behind Chanel, the founder, who was no one other than Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (19 August 1883- 10 January 1971) was a French fashion designer and business woman. The founder and namesake of the Chanel brand. She was born on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. Her early years were anything but glamorous. At age 12, after her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father, who worked as a peddler. Her parents name were Eugénie Jeanne Devolle, and Albert Chanel.
She was raised in the orphanage where she learned to see at a young age.
Chanel was smart and unsentimental, she made the most of her hardship, gathering her experiences like fabric for future designs.
The 2009 biopic “Coco before Chanel” shows the wheels turning even in the orphanage, where, as TIME’s reviewer put it, “she stares at the nuns around her, downloading the crisp whites of their wimples for future use”.
Everything Chanel encountered among the very poor became material for the fashions she’d later design for the very rich.
Her nickname “Coco” came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulin’s where she was called “Coco”, some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing and Chanel herself said that it was a ” Shortened version of Cocottle, the French word for ‘kept woman'”, according to an article in The Atlantic.
Chanel started her career as a milliner opening her first shop in Paris in 1913 following in the footsteps of fellow French milliner and fashion designer Caroline Reboux.
This was possible with help, as around the age of 20, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsam, who offered to help her start a millinery business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his wealthier friends Arthur “Boy” Chapel. Both men were instrumental in Chanel’s first fashion venture.
Opening her first shop in Paris’s Rue Cannon in 1910, Chanel started out selling hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes.
Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. “My fortune is built on that old Jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville”, she once told author Paul Morand.
According to a 1913 New Yorker profile, she established herself in the fashion world through a series of liaisons with wealthy men, starting with a French officer who, per the New York Tines, “installed her in his chatean, taught her to conduct herself with high style on horseback and, generally, gave her the skills she needed to make her way up through society.”
Chanel is most known for her legendary collarless jackets and well-fitted skirts which borrowed elements from menswear and focused more on tailoring and comfort than feminity and restriction. Chanel is also known for popularizing the little black dress, worn by Chanel as chic mourning wear after the death of a lover.
In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No.5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. Perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion………that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure”, Chanel once explained.
The fragrance was in fact also backed by department store owner Theophile Badar and businessmen Pierre and Paul Wertheimer, with Chanel developing a close friendship with Pierre.
A deal was ultimately negotiated where the Wertheimer business would take in 70 percent of Chanel No. 5 profits for producing the perfume at their factories, with Badar receiving 20 percent and Chanel herself only receiving 10 percent. Over the years, with No.5 being a massive source of revenue, she repeatedly sued to have the terms of the deal renegotiated.
Another important romance for Chanel began in the 1920s. She met the wealthy Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster, aboard his yacht around 1923, and the two started a decades – long relationship. In response to his marriage proposal, she reportedly said “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster, but there is only one Chanel!”
The international economic depression of the 1930s had a negative impact on her company, but it was the outbreak of World War II that led Chanel to close her business. She fired her workers and shit down her shops.
She had a wartime love affair with a German officer, collaborated with the Nazis in France and may even have spied for them. And, under the antisemitic laws of Vichy France, she sought to dispossess the Jewish business partners who had helped finance production of her famous perfume, arguing that the company “should be Aryanized”, according to the author of The Secret of Chanel No.5.
The stain of her wartime misdeeds lingered when she reappeared on the fashion scene in 1954, per Time, “her name still had ‘disgraced’ attached to it'”. Americans, however, managed to forgive and forget, at the Chanel suit, if not Chanel herself retained its lasting appeal.
By the 1960s, she was more controversial for lashing out against the most beloved fashion of the time, the miniskirt.
“Dégoütant”, she said of the trend in 1966. ” Now I know why men don’t like women anymore”. She kept the hemline of her iconic skirt suits where it had always been just below the knee.
In 2011, Half Vaughan published a book about Chanel based on newly declassified documents, revealing that she had collaborated with German intelligence activities. One plan in late 1943 was for her to carry an SS peace overture to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to end the war.
Chanel died at the Hotel Ritz Paris in 1971. More than a decade after her death, designer Karl Lagerfeld took over as a creative director of the brand in 1983 and continues to oversee the creative direction for the brand. The Chanel you know now may be thanks to the flashy new life that Lagerfeld breathed into the brand after his arrival. For instance, the iconic CC turnlock and the leather and chain straps were additions Lagerfeld, not Chanel herself, made to the 2.55 bag in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, Chanel remains one of the most sought after brands in fashion history due to Lagerfeld’s ability to remain true to the allure of the independent woman that was the foundation of the brand, while infusing an unpredictability that makes each show and collection unique.
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