Gabrielle Chanel- also known as Coco, is revered in the world of fashion and style and while I’ve seen Chanel perfumes and cosmetics in department stores like Edgars and Stutterfords- I haven’t had the opportunity to visit an actual store selling clothing under this brand name, so I’ll admit that I wasn’t very clued up on what ‘Chanel Style’ actually entailed and decided to expand on my knowledge by going old school and reading a book about her style and life. I was quite engrossed reading about this remarkable fashion icon and her many lovers, her spectacular social life- fancy dress balls and classy parties were the order of the day and how she drew inspiration from anything and everything in her environment; like wearing and belting her lovers’ coats, borrowing their shirts, ties and jodhpurs (horse riding pants) and adapting sailor uniforms into her designs for example, all the while adding her own twist to these items of clothing to evoke her particular style. ‘She was her own best model’- a human mannequin whose designs and creations accentuated her petite frame, where her clothing certainly made up for the lack of womanly curves so celebrated in the female form today.
• She was born in August 1883 in Saumur (France) but grew up in Auvergne
• After losing her mother to Tuberculosis, she was abandoned by her father and sent to an orphanage (before age 12)
• She learnt to sew at boarding school
• Her first job was being a shop girl for a Lingerie store in Moulin
• She made her own graduation dress (from boarding school)
• Her father was the first to call her Coco and the name also came about from her days in the Moulins Caberet- where she sang ‘Ko Ko Riko’ (Cock-a-doodle-do) and ‘Qui Qu’a Vu Coco’ (a song about Coco the lost dog)
• Chanel started off making simple yet stylish hats- which contrasted with the over-the-top hats of the time by other designers ) (early 1900’s)
• She gained attention in the press once famous actresses and opera singers like Gabrielle Dorzat and Marthe Douvelli wore her hats on stage- essentially the start of her career
Chanel is renowned for her classic style clothing: blazers worn with shirts turned up at the cuffs, tweed jackets,- all slim fitting working clothes for women while innovating night-time outfits using materials like crepe and satin and her self-designed hats ‘Cloches’ adding flair to her outfits. Chanel also popularised costume jewellery through her creations of pieces embodying real and synthetic jewels- influenced by gifts received from lovers and her various real-life adventures- creating ropes of shiny pearls, unusual brooches in the form of cupid’s arrow, her Leo star sign, ceramic wrist cuffs embedded with maltese crosses- all dressy and adding sophistication to her plain yet feminine clothing. She also made two-tone- black and white pumps famous, with ebony and ivory being a strong theme in her clothing, chain strapped handbags modelled on her own need to easily carry bags which had no straps as well as her signature scent- Chanel No 5 perfume being one of the most popular perfumes of all time.
Chanel’s style is still very relevant and en-vogue today, women are still wearing blazers with their cuffs turned up, black and white are still classic colours of sophisticated dressing, two-toned pumps are still popular and costume jewellery is available in a wide array of styles and colours from bling to pearls, and worn by the rich and not so rich alike.
Coco may have had a rough start to life but her name will continue to conjure up images of style and sophistication for generations to come. I wish I could’ve lived in the 1920’s and 1930’s- if not for anything else but the clothing and fancy parties- oh what a life she lived!
Text adapted from ‘Chanel: Her Style and Her Life’ By Janet Wallach
Images featured in ‘Chanel: Her Style and Her Life’ By Janet Wallach