Coco Chanel is a classic fashion icon.
From clothing and jewellery, to fragrance and handbags
with the famous interlaced C’s,
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s story is a real
inspiration to live your dream.
What is Coco Chanel famous for?
Coco Chanel left a legacy of glamour and elegance that endures today.
Bravely going against historical confines, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel created liberating clothing that changed the face of women’s fashion. Her elegantly casual designs, inspired women to abandon suffocating corsets and the uncomfortable, restrictive clothing of the 19th-century. Up until Coco Chanel, fashion was a man’s world. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel showed strength and phenomenal courage to triumph in a man’s world on her own terms.
Coco Chanel transformed 20th century fashion and gave women a greater sense of freedom and power to create their own destiny.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s early years
Far from a life of luxury, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born into poverty on 19 August 1883 in Saumur, located in France’s Loire Valley. These were tough times for working class women, who were second class citizens and could not vote. Women were expected to be subservient to their men and often had no option but to work as poorly paid domestic servants or labourers.
Gabrielle was just 12 years old in 1895, when she was abandoned by her father after her mother’s sudden death. The family was split; her 2 brothers were sent to live with farm labourers and Gabrielle and her 2 sisters to an orphanage. Gabrielle never saw her father again and spent her teenage years under the strict rules of disciplinarian nuns. Occasionally Gabrielle was able to visit her Aunts and Uncles. She had been taught how to sew by the nuns however she would make clothes with her Aunt Louise who taught her how to sew creatively, adding frills and pleats for instance to embellish a simple bonnet. Declining to be a nun, Gabrielle left the orphanage aged 18.
In 1903 Gabrielle was offered a job as a seamstress however, she had her eye on a much more glamourous future. She had a brief time on the stage performing in clubs where she as known as “Coco” which came from two popular songs she used to sing, “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco”.
Chanel’s design style of simplicity and comfort revolutionised the fashion industry and attracted the attention of influential wealthy women looking for relief from the prevalent corseted styles of the day.
By 1910 Gabrielle Chanel was a licensed milliner and opened her first boutique, Chanel Modes on Paris’s Rue Cambon. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz when she began making clothes.
Chanel’s first success came from the idea of creating a loose and relaxing dress that suited her customers’ increasingly fast paced lifestyle.
“I make fashion women can live in, breath in, feel comfortable in and look younger in.”
– Coco Chanel
The ever-entrepreneurial designer, innovated from tight, stiff and impractical clothing.
She used jersey fabric, which at the time was used for men’s underwear, which was considered risqué, as ladies were not supposed to know about men’s underwear!
Jersey was Chanel’s fabric of choice to make dresses because it was inexpensive, easy to wear and draped well.
Within 10 years Gabrielle Chanel was the head of a thriving Parisian couturier. By the late 1920s Chanel’s industries were reportedly worth millions and the couture, perfumery, textile mill and jewellery workshop employed more than 2,000 people.
So, what is Coco Chanel known for?
5 Famous Coco Chanel Innovations that changed the World of Fashion
1. The Chanel Suit
Chanel’s designs were revolutionary for the time, and a drastic deviation from the very constraining clothing that was being designed and manufactured by men. Gabrielle borrowed elements of menswear and used her understanding of women to bravely deviate from the designs of the day by emphasising comfort and practicality, to help women say goodbye to crushing corsets forever.
Introduced in 1925, the now legendary Chanel suit, was created to provide women with the same comfort and ease as men and helped them look professional and classy without losing their femininity. The suit design was inspired by a collarless, military jacket with braided tweed patch pockets, jewel-like buttons and the Chanel unique fit, thanks to the weight of a fine chain concealed in the hem. Elegantly allowing absolute freedom of movement, the Chanel suit was an incontrovertible success and worn by famous stars like Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Elizabeth Taylor.
The Chanel jacket has become the cornerstone of contemporary fashion
that never goes out of fashion.
Discover in this video how Gabrielle Chanel created the iconic CHANEL jacket.
2. The 2.55 Quilted Bag
Gabrielle Chanel launched the 2.55 handbag with chain shoulder strap in February 1955, hence the name 2.55, and changed handbag history.
Prior to the 2.55 bags were all handheld and cumbersome. The Chanel 2.55 was the first bag for women with a shoulder strap, which offered freedom from the impracticality of the clutch bag so a woman’s hands could remain free. Prior to the 2.55, a bag that was not hand-carried was considered uncouth. The 2.55 changed the world of fashion forever and it became acceptable for a woman of social status to carry a bag on her shoulder.
Women also loved the practical details of the 2.55 Chanel handbag.
The 2.55 chain strap that was inspired by the tiny chains used to weigh down the hems of Chanel suit jackets, could be doubled up and swung from one shoulder, there was a handy back slip pocket, a hidden zip pocket (perfect for hiding love letters, which Chanel apparently did!) and a central compartment perfectly shaped for your lipstick.
The 2.55 bag also had the Chanel signature details of a deep burgundy interior (inspired by the designer’s childhood uniform at the Aubazine Abbey orphanage), and diamond-stitched quilting, which was inspired by jackets men worn at the races.
Would you like to see the artisans create Chanel handbags?
3. Costume Jewellery
Innovator Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel broke away from the established traditions of when and where jewellery could be worn.
Originally costume jewellery mimicked fine jewellery and was for those who could not afford the real thing. Chanel changed this concept, advocating that jewellery should accessorise an outfit and be worn to decorate, rather than display wealth. She turned costume jewellery into a hot fashion trend, especially the idea of piling it on.
The Chanel minimalist clothing designs were the perfect backdrop for layering jewellery and showcasing signature pieces. Gabrielle also loved the idea of combining fake and real jewellery.
In the 1920’s Chanel’s costume jewellery was designed by Etienne de Beaumont and could only be purchased by Chanel’s loyal clients. In 1927 the famous Chanel silver cuff bracelets, covered with black enamel and decorated with a Maltese cross made from different coloured stones were born when Gabrielle Chanel began working with Fulco di Verdura.
The term costume jewellery was coined because the pieces were made to fit well with a specific outfit, or ‘costume,’ rather than to individual items of clothing.
Some materials used in Chanel costume jewellery include: imitation and semi-precious stones, enamels, gold and silver plated metals, glass beads, crystals, imitation pearls, fabrics like leather, ribbons and velvet and metals such as rhodium, stainless steel, and rhodium over steel.
Click here if you are interested to see Chanel’s current range of costume jewellery.
4. The Little Black Dress
In the 1920’s black clothing was the clothing of servants or associated with mourning. Black however, was Gabrielle Chanel’s favourite colour; she felt that black revealed a woman’s radiance and accentuated the essential.
So while other designers were turning to bright colours, Chanel followed her own creative instinct and created minimalist little black dresses with clean, simple lines. Signature Chanel accessories with the little black dress were ropes of large fake pearls, a fabric camellia or a plain cloche hat.
A girl should be two things; classy and fabulous – Coco Chanel
The little black dress made a bold statement because of it’s simplicity and black colour.
Chanel created a new fashion trend with this chic, versatile wardrobe staple that can be dressed up or down with accessories to suit any occasion. The little black dress is truly timeless.
Do you have a little black dress?
5. Chanel No. 5
Gabrielle Chanel made true innovations as a woman designer who understood the needs of women. She didn’t just stop with clothing. In 1921 Coco Chanel was the first Fashion House to develop its own fragrance.
Chanel No. 5 perfume has a heritage and history synonymous with elegant femininity and timeless luxury. For almost 100 years since it’s launch in 1921, Chanel No.5 has stayed in the top best sellers and is one of the most famous fragrances of all time.
The creative genius occurred when Gabrielle Chanel asked perfumer Ernest Beaux to develop a sparkling, simple, seductive fragrance that represented the new modern woman and was more complete and mysterious than the single-scented perfumes currently on the market.
“A woman’s perfume should be as important as a woman’s dress
and should be worn wherever she would like to be kissed”.
– Coco Chanel
Chanel No.5 was the world’s first abstract fragrance. It incorporated more than 80 ingredients in a multi-layered blended formula combined so that the individual notes are difficult to identify.
Incorporated notes include purest ylang-ylang and Rose Centrifolia (or May Rose) which is a special rare flower from Grasse on the French Riviera which only blooms once a year for a period of three weeks in May. The unique Jasmine note is said to take on a different tone depending on its environment. The inference is that the scent is different for each woman, which adds the seductive sense of allure and mystery to the iconic nature of Chanel No. 5.
Why is it called No. 5?
Ernest Beaux presented various samples when developing the fragrance for Coco Chanel and Gabrielle Chanel chose sample Number 5. It is also said that mademoiselle Gabrielle also liked the lucky, magical qualities of the number 5.
The simplicity of the name was also part of its success. It was easily remembered and differentiated itself by not being romantic or sexually provocative, which was the prevailing trend. This simplicity also allowed the wearer to project her own emotions and mood onto the scent, in the style of a modern woman.
“It was what I was waiting for. A perfume like nothing else.
A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.”
– Coco Chanel
Always a trail blazer, Chanel also deliberately designed the perfume packaging and bottle to be unrivaled for its pure, austere and minimalistic elegance and panache.
The stopper cut like a diamond is said to be inspired by Place Vendome in Paris.
The timeless Chanel No. 5 bottle is a classic icon that has endured over time.
This video delves into the Chanel archives to explain the creative process and selective journey of over 80 scents. Press play to learn more about worldwide fame of the legendary Chanel No.5.
Would you like to see more?
This sort 2 minute “Le film,” by Baz Luhrmann, with Nicole Kidman captures the inspiration of Chanel No. 5’s essence of romance and allure.
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