“Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape.” [6.]
– Coco Chanel
During the 1920's, in particular, Coco Chanel left a lasting mark on women’s fashion and design. Up until the First World War, women’s clothing had been quite restrictive and tended to involve full-length skirts which were impractical for many activities. Coco Chanel helped create women’s clothing that was simpler and more practical. [6.] She also introduced garments for which no one before had even imagined that women would wear them. And they became a legend. This could only be accomplished by an unusually strong personality.
Chanel was known for her lifelong determination, ambition, and energy which she applied to her professional and social life. She both achieved financial success as a businesswoman and catapulted to social prominence in French high society, thanks to the connections she made through her work. These included many artists and craftspeople to whom she became a patron.
Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel
(1883 – 1971)
Little is known about the early years of the "Grande Mademoiselle", but it was undoubtedly memories of her childhood which, towards the end of her life, promted Gabrielle Chanel to say, "If you are born without wings, don't stop any from growing". [1.]
Most sources suggest Gabrielle Chanel was born in 1883, though this was a closely guarded fact – with Coco not keen on revealing her birth date. Her mother was unmarried and her upbringing was marked by poverty and uncertainty. Aged 12, her mother died, and her father sent his three daughters including Gabrielle to a convent in Correze. Life in the religious institution was strict and frugal, but she did learn to sew and gain a rudimentary knowledge of creating clothes. [6.]
As a teenager she quickly developed a tough character with a strong independent streak and, once she had left school, she began work as a shop assistant at a hosiers in Moulins. In her spare time, she sang at La Rotonde, a concert hall popular with officers from the regiment stationed nearby. Her repertoire comprised two songs, - "Ko Ko Ri Ko" and "Qui qu'a vu Coco? ". Her admirers were quick to give her a nickname derived from the element common to both. The legend of Coco was born. [1.]
Around 1908, Chanel began an affair with Étienne Balsan, a rich aristocrat. He offered her a life of luxury and leisure. However, Coco soon became tired of the easy life and when Arthur Boy Capel, who was Étienne's best friend and later became her lover, agreed to help her finance a hat shop in Paris, she did not hesitate for a moment. [1.]
This enabled Chanel to become acquainted with many wealthy aristocrats and a different social circle. [6.]
In 1910, Chanel established her workshop in rue Cambon in Paris - the sign outside stated "Chanel, Milliner".