Today’s celebrities seem to cherish the Chanel # 5. Combined with luxury and elegance, this perfume is named after a famous French woman: Coco Chanel. This fashion designer is known for her avant-gardism and sense of simplicity. True icon of the French Touch, this woman of character still influences today’s spirits of the whole world.
Prayer, singing and sewing
Daughter of a merchant and a seamstress, she was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, in central France. On the death of her mother, the child is placed in an orphanage. Little Gabrielle Chasnel learns sewing, like all girls of her condition. Very quickly, she tries to stand out from her classmates, and begins to imagine clothes.
Clean lines, geometric patterns … The young designer is inspired by the architecture of the religious buildings that surround it. But this pious and calm life does not suit him. Gabrielle decides to lead her life, and opens to the world through the music hall.
At 25, she performs at the Grand Café, a luxurious and friendly venue in Moulins, Auvergne. Her hit song is titled ‘Qui qu’a vu Coco dans l’Trocadero?’
From this chorus, Gabrielle becomes “Coco”.
The beautiful lady weaves her canvas
Courted by the men of the high society, she learns their standards and habits. In this environment she meets Arthur Capel, a young, wealthy English entrepreneur. She becomes her mistress, and attends social events. But for her no question to dress in any random fashion attire! She uses her fairy fingers and makes her outfits herself. She is immediately noticed among the bourgeoisie, thanks to her offbeat style. Her creations are avant-garde, sober and comfortable. Wearing sleek pants, shirts, and hats, Coco Chanel breaks the codes of clothing standards of that time.
Coco Chanel, or the women’s revolution
The successes she has are fraught with difficulties. Mademoiselle attracts the wrath of the most conservative people, popularizing the fashion for short hair. And more and more women desire to obtain the same body thinness as their idol, at all costs!
Beyond the purity of her creations, Coco Chanel gives a real priority to comfort. Promoting the image of an active woman, she leads a fierce war on corsets, and creates the bra. We owe him our pajamas, our pants, our short skirts and the famous “petite robe noire”.
Between ambitions & disappointments
Coco Chanel designs her legendary perfume, No. 5, in 1921. In 1932, she tries to launch her own line of luxury jewelry. But this time, it’s a huge failure. After the shock of the Great Depression of 1929, the public opinion does not fail to remind her of the miserable condition from which she came from. But this is an obstacle she will end up circumventing very well: in 1939, she manages 4,000 workers and responds to 28,000 orders a year.
The end of the reign
Her role during the Second World War will nonetheless play against her. Believed to be antisemitic and to have an affair with a German officer, Gabrielle Chasnel will be sonsidered as a “collaborateur”. Tracked down by the French after the war, the seamstress is rehabilitated with the help of Churchill. But this event marks the end of his personal aura. She seems to have forgotten where she came from, and her prestigious success seems to have made her bitter over the years.
The 60s and 70s also mark the appearance of new styles. We are witnessing the birth of the miniskirt and the advent of jeans. Trends are changing. The seamstress denigrates this fashion that she does not understand: “Fashions are good only when they go down the street, not when they come from the street”. She dies lonely, in Paris on January 10, 1971.
Women today owe a lot to this seamstress, a symbol of French elegance. Her life is a work, made of commercial success and avant-gardism. Thanks to this “iron woman”, the clothes women wear today are a guarantee of comfort, freedom of movement and aesthetics.
Her loves, failures and successes are the subject of many literary and cinematographic works. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet this complex and exciting character …
Coco avant Chanel (with Audrey Tautou), by Anne Fontaine
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (film adaptation of his love affair with composer Igor Stravinsky), by Jan Kounen