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Friday Fashion Lesson: Coco Chanel

Happy Friday, Fashionstas! Today, we’re going to learn a little about the iconic designer Coco Chanel. Out of all the “rags to riches” stories you’ve ever heard, I promise the story of Coco Chanel’s is one of the most impressive! A true trailblazer, Chanel revolutionized the fashion industry and paved the way as one of the first female fashion designers, who actually knew how to dress a woman.
Mademoiselle Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel is August of 1883 in Saumur, Maine-et-Loire, France. When she was 12, her mother died and her father sent her away to an orphanage, where young Chanel learned to sew. When she was 18, she moved to a new city, where she dabbled in amateur cabaret performances, earning the nickname “Coco.” Many young military officers frequented the venue where she would perform andddd off she goes.
In her early twenties, Chanel met Etienne Balsam, a cavalry officer and very wealthy heir. She became his live in mistress and was introduced to the life of luxury among the rich and famous. During these years, she’d spend her free time making a designing hats for her and her friends. She also was known to push the envelope on women’s fashion, refusing to be constrained by outdated corsets and was even seen wearing men’s blazers and ties with feminine elements, such as her hats and pearls. How bold! Soon, she fell in love with Balsam’s friend Albert “Boy” Capel, who is said to have influenced her signature style in many ways.
Capel assisted in funding her the commercial space for first hat shop in Paris. In just three years as a young entrepreneur, she saw such great success that she was able to pay back the original investment. Capel was quoted at one time, “I thought I’d given you a plaything, I gave you freedom.” Capel went on to marry someone else and Chanel began to date the Duke of Westminster. She learned so much during this time, connecting with Winston Churchill among other British aristocrats, admiring the hearty textiles of their sports clothing and incorporated them into her designs.
If anything is as iconic as her clothing, her signature fragrance, Chanel No. 5, was as trailblazing as she was. Perfumes at that time fell into a few different categories that Coco decided she did not want to follow. She introduced Chanel No. 5 as a fragrance that appealed to the female liberation of the early 21st century in an exquisite glass bottle she designed herself. It was always more than perfume and clothing because it was a movement she encouraged: a woman can take the control of her own life.
While living in Paris during World War I and World War II, Coco Chanel became close with some German occupants who’s wives liked her perfume. In selling her products to the Nazi regime, (…and dating a few), she got caught in some whirlwind she never would have imagined. After the war, France turned against her for her Nazi ties and she fled to Switzerland. She stopped designing for many years while in exile.
After the age of 70 and a fifteen year hiatus in design, she was disgusted with the work of Cristian Dior. Tight bodices, padded bras, and large skirts were coming back into fashion, which were some of the very trends she had tried to avoid. She made a comeback in 1956. Critics had scoffed at her designs and tried to belittle them, but women all over the world bought her designs.
Some iconic fashion designs you may know from Chanel: the women’s suit/tweed jacket, the quilted bag with straps, the little black dress and two-tone ballet flats. Although she died in 1971, at the age of 87 in her apartment at the Ritz in Paris, her legacy for women will live on forever.
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This article was written by Alexandria Nevarez on October 2, 2020.

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