Several biographies has been written about the famous French fashion lady, trying to reveal more or less known aspects, but all speak about the “lady” who revolutionized fashion and who has reinvented herself.
Throughout her life, Coco Chanel concealed the truth about her origin. She talked about an aunt from Auvernia that never existed and did not want to remember anything about her childhood – she was a child growing up in an orphanage.
As Axel Madsen tells us in “Coco Chanel” (Edicion Circe), she was the illegitimate daughter of vendors. She was 12 when her mother died and her father disappeared, leaving his daughters Julie, Gabrielle and Antoinette at the orphanage in Aubazine, and sons Alphonse and Lucien to a peasant family. Chanel has reinvented her history and did not want to ever remember the years at the orphanage. She built her legend surrounded in mystery and did not care that she was not telling the whole story.
At 21 she was already working in a haberdashery in Moulins: sewing in a workshop of clothes for men, for city officials. Next she worked in a café called La Rotonde, where she earned the nickname “la petite Coco”.
After a while, her life changed when she met Étienne Balsan, a rich racehorse breeder who later became her protector. Balsan had a big and beautiful house in Royallieu, located one hour from Paris. The house was a fortress with walls covered with ivy, with stables and horse tracks, and was surrounded by a park of oaks and chestnut woods close to Compiègne forest. Chanel was 22 years old when she moved there.
While the ladies who were watching the horseraces from Longchamp wore feathers and big hats, Coco appeared in a costume: trousers with a masculine jacket – something rare and strange for that time – and a straw hat. Chanel was the image of modernity in contrast to the decaying splendor of the period called “la belle époque”.
A Busy and Adventurous Life
She was an active woman and one day she asked Balsan to help her open a hat shop in Paris. While Balsan was still thinking about this idea, Coco fell in love with Arthur Capel, also known as “Boy”. They met at a fox hunt in the Pyrenees. Capel was English, the son of a tycoon who made his fortune thanks to coal mines. Coco left with Capel to Paris, leaving Balsan a note: “I’m going with Boy Capel. Forgive me but I love him.” Coco was able to open a hat store with Boy’s help, in rue Cambon No. 21, a street that in the next 80 years was associated with her name.
Chanel’s business was a success. She knew how to transform simple hats that she bought from Lafayette Gallery and then selling them as a unique piece. On one occasion the actress Gabrielle Dorziat wore Chanel’s hats in the drama “Bel Ami,” by Guy de Maupassant. The actress was dressed by the great Jacques Doucet and Chanel was very happy.
Several years have passed and Chanel’s creations were worn by Nora Gregor in “The Rules” by Renoir, by Delphine Seyrig in “Last year at Marienbad” by Resnais and other big Hollywood stars. With Boy’s help she began to enter the high society, including painters, writers and talented people.
When Coco was opening a clothing and knitted hats store in the summer of 1913 in Deauville, she was already in the magazine “Le Figaro”.
On July 15, 1915 Chanel opened a “fashion boutique” in Biarritz, relatively soon after the beginning of World War I in 1914, when clothes have had to adapt to war and women who were previously elegant, now tended the wounded, drove ambulances and used typewriters. Chanel had to adapt and respond to new needs.
Her works conquered the entire world and the fashion item that will remain iconic is the famous adorned jacket with its unique style.
Although she had many suitors, she preferred to work and gain fame: “Whenever I had to choose between the man I love and clothes, I ended up with the clothes,” comments Chanel.
She reappeared in Paris in 1954, having to adapt to that time, not losing her throne in Parisian fashion, rivaling with Yves Saint Laurent, Courreges and Paco Rabanne, with their innovative ideas. She believed in the first, despised the second for working with plastic, and she called Paco Rabanne “the metallic one” because he worked with metals. Of all creators, the only one she respected was Balenciaga.
When she died in 1971, at 88, in her apartment at the Ritz, she was preparing her collection for spring and had plans to launch new fragrances. Having reached the pinnacle of creation, the woman who revolutionized women’s fashion in the early decades of the twentieth century and brought into fashion the fine and thin attire and the color black, had reached “immortality”.
Chanel was innovative both in fashion and in the way she lived. Her creations are still alive in the fashion world.
Coco Chanel Famous Quotes
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
“Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of ‘vulgarity.'”