The story of iconic fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel almost reads like your classic “rags to riches” narrative. That is, with the exception of her somewhat melancholic ending.
From spending her childhood in an orphanage at Aubazine in rural France to spending her adulthood preparing designs in her salon on the Rue Cambon in Paris, Chanel lived a diverse life of overwhelming success and equally overwhelming heartbreak.
Of the many lovers she took over her lifetime (including the famous painter Pablo Picasso, Russian composer Igor Stravinksy, Grand Duke Dimitry Pavolvich, the Duke of Westminster, and German diplomat Hans Gunther Von Dincklage - controversially, during the German occupation of France during WWII), she only ever really loved two men (Arthur Capel and Paul Iribarnegaray) both of whom tragically died many years before Chanel would meet her own end.
Chanel lived for her work, believing that “fashion is a state of mind”. But she also confessed to feeling like a “failure” in working to the extent that she had, expressing that “a woman is a force not properly directed. A man is properly directed. He can find refuge in his work, but work just wipes a woman out. The function of a woman is to be loved.” Sadly, Chanel died without ever marrying or having children to pass on her legacy to – both things she desired but never possessed.
Chanel revolutionised fashion. She was staunchly opposed to calling herself an artist, professing that fashion should be discussed “without poetry, without literature. A dress is neither a tragedy, nor a painting. It is a charming and ephemeral creation not an everlasting work of art.” Nevertheless, she did consider herself a maker of style and style is, as Yves Saint Laurent once famously said, “eternal”.
Chanel’s creations are famed for their simplicity, elegance and ability to endure as the decades pass. This might be because she believed that, “The eccentricity should be in the woman, not the dress”.
Chanel is responsible for:
- transforming jersey into a stylish and popular dress fabric;
- creating the “little black dress” , believing that black wipes away everything else around it, allowing a woman’s individuality to shine through,
- making costume jewellery wearable and acceptable,
- liberating women from the confines of skirts and dresses and introducing them to trousers and suits, and
- of course, the creation of the world’s most famous fragrance, Chanel No 5.
Her life makes for very compelling reading and, for this reason, I highly recommend Lisa Chaney’s biography “Chanel: An Intimate Life”. This book was given to me as a gift and has inspired me to create this website. Chanel’s unwavering persistence and determination enabled her to create and cultivate a successful empire borne from her passion – my dream is to one day achieve that too...
- Michelle x