Empowering women is Coco Chanel’s legacy.
From her CC monogram to her Chanel No. 5 perfume, the icon spent her life revolutionizing women’s fashion for the modern lady.
Chanel is credited with releasing women from the corseted silhouette of the 1800s and opening up the world of a sporty, chic feminine fashion.
Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Chanel to a single mother in France in 1883. Both her parents worked with clothing, her mother was a laundrywoman and her father was a nomadic street vendor who sold undergarments and work clothes. He later married her mother, who died when she was only 32 years old.
Little Chanel was then sent to an orphanage in a convent where she lived a frugal, disciplined life. It was there that she learned an invaluable life skill – sewing.
Chanel sang cabaret and worked as a seamstress, which put her in contact with many influential figures. She met a wealthy textile heir named Étienne Balsan, who introduced her to lavish lifestyle filled with diamonds, dresses and pearls. Coco Chanel began designing while living with Balsan, and became a licensed milliner in 1910. What had began as a little hobby, turned into a professional enterprise.
In 1913 she opened a boutique in Deauville where she sold her clothes – hats, jacket, sweaters and her sailor blouse. Her supportive sister and aunt, Antoinette and Adrienne, proudly wore her designs around town.
She opened a second shop in Biarritz which eventually led to an affair with the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich of Russia.
By 1919 she was an established maison de couture at 31 rue Cambon, Paris.
In 1920 Chanel met Igor Stravinsky. From Stravinsky she became involved in the Ballets Russes – and ended up designing costumes for their revolutionary ballets, like The Rite of Spring – ballets that pushed the limits of performance like never before.
Chanel later said to have affairs with both the Duke of Westminster and Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales. She made the introduction of Samuel Goldwyn through the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, and from that launched her career designing film costumes for MGM. Ultimately, her designs didn’t translate well to film, but she had many private clients, like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. These were the influential women who wore Chanel’s liberating designs.
While Chanel never married and died lonely later in life, her contributions to the empowerment of women forever changed women’s fashion. Her choice to never marry was in fact, a wild and daring move for her time.