The Story Of Chanel

The story of Chanel

From her first millinery shop, opened in 1912, to the 1920s, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel rose to become one of the premier fashion designers in Paris, France. Replacing the corset with comfort and casual elegance, her fashion themes included simple suits and dresses, women’s trousers, costume jewelry, perfume and textiles.

Gabrielle Chanel was born in 1883 in Saumur, France to parents of modest background.  Her mother died when she was six years old, leaving her father with five children, whom he quickly farmed out to various relatives. The young Chanel was sent to the orphanage of the Catholic monastery of Aubazine, where she learned the trade of a seamstress.

In 1910 at the age of 21, Gabrielle Chanel opened her first shop in Paris, creating hats under the name “Chanel Modes”. She was favored by the most famous French actresses of the time. Her designs helped to establish her reputation. Her simple, elegant style of dresses created a sensation and was soon imitated by all of Paris. In 1913 she opened a new boutique in Deauville, France and introduced a collection of sportswear. Her line of Jersey Garments proved revolutionary and changed women’s relationship with their bodies and their ways of life. It was an immediate success. In 1915 her reputation was firmly established and she opened her first couture house in Biarritz, France.

During the 1920s, Coco Chanel became the first designer to create loose women’s jerseys, traditionally used for men’s underwear, creating a relaxed style for women ignoring the stiff corseted look of the time. They soon became very popular with clients, a post-war generation of women for whom the corseted restricted clothing seemed old-fashioned and impractical. By the 1920s, Maison Chanel was established at 31, Rue Cambon in Paris and became a fashion force to be reckoned with. Chanel became a style icon herself with her striking bob haircut and tan placing her at the cutting edge of modern style. In 1921 Chanel unveiled her first fragrance, the iconic Chanel N 5. N5 is so called because it was the fifth scent presented to Chanel. A truly timeless classic N5 remains the ultimate symbol of femininity. In 1922 Chanle N22 was launched and named after the year of its creation. The floral fragrance was conceived in the same revolutionary spirit as Chanel N5 and was distinguished by its unique blend of delicacy and audacity. Two years later, Pierre Wertheimer became her business partner (taking on 70% of the fragrance business), and reputedly her lover.

In 1924 Chanel presented its first makeup collection, featuring lip colors and face powders. In the same year, the “Societe Des Parfums Chanel” was founded and was dedicated to creating unique fragrances and beauty products. Gabrielle Chanel created the costumes for the baller “Le Train Bleu”. The same year on her trip to Scotland she discovered Tweed, a traditional Masculine Fabric which inspired her iconic women’s suit. In 1925, Chanel launched her signature cardigan jacket. In 1926 Chanel launched Bois Des Iles, inspired by a vision of exotic lands. In 1926 Chanel created the iconic “Little Black Dress”. In 1927 she launched Cuir De Russir created by Ernest Beaux, who was born and trained in Russi. The new oriental fragrance draws its inspirations from Russian history. The same year, based on the belief that luxury begins with perfect skin, Chanel developed the first comprehensive line of fifteen groundbreaking skin products.

In 1931 at the personal request of Samuel Goldwyn, Gabrielle Chanel went to Hollywood to create outfits for the leading stars of the silver screen. Hollywood stars including Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly fell in love with her effortlessly stylish boxy cardigan suits. During her life, Coco Chanel also designed costumes for the stage, including Cocteau’s ‘Antigone’ (1923) and ‘Oedipus Rex’ (1937) and cinematic works such as ‘La Regle de Jeu’.  In 1932 she presented “Biojoux De Diamants”, a dazzling exhibition of fine jewelry, staged in honor of the diamond in her private residence in Paris. In 1935 Chanel was at the peak of her fame. She employed 4000 workers and owned 5 boutiques in Paris. During World War II only one boutique remained open ( the store was perfumes and accessories).

In 1954 at the age of 71 Gabrielle Chanel staged the grand re-opening of her couture house. In 1955 she launched the iconic 2.55 Quilted handbag, naming the style after the date of its creation. She combined leather with gold chain and invented a supple new style of shoulder strap that is uniquly strong and light and that allows a woman’s hands to remain free. In 1955 Chanel released Pour Monsieur, the only men’s fragrance to be produced in her lifetime. In 1957 she created the legendary two-tone sling-back shoe. A Broadway musical of her life opened in 1969, with Katharine Hepburn taking the role of Chanel. In 1970 Chanel introduced N19, naming the new fragrance after her date of birth, August 19. Coco Chanel worked until her death in 1971 at the age of 88, spending her last moments in the style she had become accustomed to at her opulent private apartment in The Ritz. In 1978 the house of Chanel expanded with the introduction of its first ready-to-wear collection and the worldwide distribution of its line of iconic accessories.

Karl Lagerfeld has been chief designer of Chanel’s fashion house since 1983. His ability to continuously mine the Chanel archive for inspiration testifies to the importance of Coco Chanel’s contribution to the world of fashion. Lagerfeld, like Chanel at the time of her comeback, looked to past designs for the secret to his success. His designs incorporated signature Chanel details, tweed fabrics, colors, gold chains, quilt-stitched leather, and the linked “CC” logo. In later collections, Lagerfeld became more irreverent, deconstructing some of the ladylike polish of Chanel’s 1960s looks. Playing with the fact that Chanel’s favorite jersey fabric had been used for men’s underwear at the turn of the twentieth century, Lagerfeld even incorporated men’s T-shirts and briefs into his designs.

In 1987 the first line of Chanel watches was launched with the creation of the Premiere Watch. The dial of the watch recalls both the shape of the place Vendome an the stopper of the iconic N5 bottle. In 1993 the milestone was reached with the launch of the first Chanel fine jewelry collection in Paris. In 200 the first Chanel sport watch was created with the launch of the iconic J12 watch. The watch was developed for both men and women.  In 2001 Chanel launched COCO Mademoiselle, a feminine and sexy scent inspired by the irrepressible spirit of Mademoiselle Chanel. In 2003 Chanel introduced Chance, an original, youthful fragrance, in which fresh floral notes contrasted with sweet and spicy elements. In 2005 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York honored Chanel with a grand exhibition dedicated to the house of Chanel. In 2009 Chanel introduced Rouge Coco, a luxurious line of lip color designed by Peter Philips (creative director of Chanel makeup). He was inspired by the iconic lipstick developed by Gabrielle Chanel. In 2010 Chanel launched Bleu De Chanel, a provocative fragrance for men.

Ultimately, Chanel was, and always will be, one of the most established and glamorous fashion houses in the world, creating new and beautiful designs.