Coco Chanel Biography
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (August 18, 1883 – January 10, 1971) Born in Saumur, France. French designer considered one of the most representative and influential figures in the fashion world of the twentieth century. The promoter of the garçonne-style renovator and vindicator, Coco Chanel became known as a designer in the 1910s, after buying and renovating a line of hats that she sold with the support of her lover Étienne Balsan. Upon gaining the recognition he opened numerous stores and began producing everything from shoes, suits, and dresses to perfumes and accessories. One of the greatest contributions that this revolutionary designer left was the liberation of the woman from the rigid and stoned wardrobe of the belle époque, thus reflecting the struggle for equality and women’s rights initiated by the women of the time.
Family and beginnings
Born into a humble family, Chanel had as parents the farmer Eugénie Jeanne Devolle and the seller Albert Chanel. Her childhood was marked by poverty, the alcoholism of her father and the illness of her mother, who left six orphaned children when she died in 1895. After the death of her mother, her father tried to leave the children to the care of their grandparents, but they refused, so he accommodated the three boys in farmers’ homes and the girls sent them to an orphanage. At twelve, Chanel was left in the care of the nuns of the monastery of Aubazine (Corrèze), where she was strictly educated, learning to sew, embroider and iron.
During the six years that she remained in the monastery, Chanel was trained as a seamstress and began to create a fictional story about her birth and her family, which she hated after abandonment; She spent most of her life denying them and hiding any record that existed about them, as her past embarrassed her. Anxious to start a new life, she left the orphanage and began working as a saleswoman in a sewing shop and singer in La Rotonde, an entertainment place for army men, where she performed songs such as Ko ko ri ko and Qui qu’a vu Coconut?. It was in this place that she started being called Coco, a name she would use later to make herself known as a designer.
At age 22 she fell madly in love with Étienne Balsan, a wealthy young man who ripped her out of provincial life and introduced her to the world of the upper class, parties, and leisure, however, Chanel wanted to work, so he spoke with Balsan to finance the opening of her first business, a millinery. Well, by then she had started selling her first hats to wealthy ladies and ladies on the ground floor of Balsan’s apartment, making himself known for her talent and particular informal and elegant style. In 1910, while Balsan was thinking about the project, Chanel ran away with Arthur Boy Capel, a polo player friend of Balsan, with whom she lived in Paris for a while. That same year she opened her first store in Paris, Chanel Modes, which was supported by Balsan and Capel.
The start of a dream
After opening her first store in Paris, Chanel began to gain recognition as a designer, reforming hats she bought at the Galeries Lafayette. Given the success achieved with the hats, Chanel decided to expand her business by designing her fashion line, which was well-received by her clients, who were mostly known from Balsan. In a short time, the fashion house attracted the attention of women of the time with its informal, elegant and revolutionary fashion, away from the bell-shaped and saturated style of the belle époque. The success of her designs led her to open more branches and hire more than 4000 workers, with whom she managed one of the biggest changes in the fashion world. With her stores on rue Cambo, Deauville, and Biarritz, Chanel imposed a new fashion style, between feminine and chic, which completely changed the way women of the time dressed, reflecting to some extent the change in the times and the struggle initiated by female activists in search of equal rights.
Being a model of her designs, Chanel became the image of the young and successful woman of the time: thin, stylized, with short hair, androgynous figure, and garçonne style. While her business was growing, Chanel was going through difficult moments in the love field, as she was abandoned by Capel, who married an aristocrat in 1919. At the end of World War I, Chanel settled in Hotel Ritz and focused entirely on her business, which prospered rapidly thanks to the dissemination of her designs and style in fashion magazines and newspapers around the world. The recognition she had gained allowed her to innovate and create new styles for the modern, elegant and free woman such as short skirts, female pants, Scottish tweed costume jewelry, round toe shoes a, the beach pajamas and her iconic bag with golden chains.
In 1929, the Wall Street crack forced Chanel to reduce the number of workers and the cost of their designs, however, this did not save the signature of the closure. Overwhelmed by loss, she moved to North America, where she began working designing clothes for big movie stars with the support of producer Samuel Goldwyn. After reopening the fashion house with the support of her new lover Duke Pierre Wertheimer and revolutionizing the world of perfumes with Parfums Chanel, the designer had to face the closing again due to the outbreak of World War II. She subsequently went into exile in Switzerland and stayed away from the world of fashion while attending the creation of the new Dior and Balenciaga look. She reopened her home in 1954, seventy-one years old and continued working on her designs even when her rheumatism and arthritis beset her. This prominent French designer died on January 10, 1971, in her bed at the Hotel Ritz, Paris.
Her funeral was attended by important figures such as designers Paco Rabanne, Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent and the painter Salvador Dalí, among others. Three years after her death, Alain Wertheimer took command of the brand, skillfully leading the company and greatly promoting the sale of Chanel Number 5 and its different editions. Currently, the Wertheimer family are the owners of the company, which they have managed to keep up thanks to the work of great designers and the renewal of Coco Chanel’s style. Among the designers that marked the history of the company is Karl Lagerfeld, who was responsible for recovering the brightness and importance of the brand.