Coco Chanel is one of the names that we associate with designer clothing and perfumes. And indeed she was famed for her creativity in the fashion industry making her one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time.
Coco Chanel was born on 19th August 1883 in Saumur, France although she always claimed that her year of birth was 1893 making her a decade younger. Her childhood was rather a miserable one with the death of her mother when she was only twelve and the absence of her father afterwards. Chanel grew up in an orphanage where she learned how to sew. On her eighteenth birthday, she left the orphanage to find work and got her first job with a local tailor. She also did part time singing at cafes and concert halls. When she was 23, she became mistress to a wealthy army officer and lived in his chateau for three years where she began to discover her creative talents. Her second relationship was with a rich industrialist who even helped her set up her first shop. The relationship that lasted for nine years really stabilized her financially. Chanel now owned several boutiques in various cities of France.
In the 1920’s Chanel’s loose jersey for women became an instant hit as it was a diversion from the stiff corseted look that was becoming quite impractical for women at that time. Chanel began to establish herself throughout France as her clientele increased rapidly during the 20s. Maison Chanel was now a place where fashion was born and Chanel herself was seen as a style icon with her modern bob haircut and trendy clothing. Along with designing couture Chanel also created dance costumes for the Ballet-Russe. In 1922 she met the businessman Pierre Werthheimer who was the director of Bourgeois, a renowned perfume and cosmetics house. Two years later his company provided Chanel with complete finance for the production, marketing and distribution of her perfume Chanel No. 5. It was the first perfume to be sold worldwide. The next year her famous cardigan jacket and the little black dress made a debut; both are a staple of every Chanel collection to this date. She was also a costume designer for films including Antigone (1923) and ‘Oedipus Rex’ (1937). During the World War II Chanel closed many of her boutiques as she believed that was not the time to be selling fashion.
Chanel started designing her collections of luxury clothing again in 1954. Many male designers like Christian Dior, Robert Piguet and Jacque Fath now dominated the fashion industry. Chanel opposed the male authority saying that women should rebel against the ‘illogical’ aesthetics brought by male couturiers. She was seventy years old with a renewed sense of passion and energy. Chanel reopened her fashion house and introduced a new collection which was not so well received in Paris but was a huge success in Britain and the United States.
Chanel died on 10th January 1971 at the age of eighty eight. She is accredited for introducing a new and exotic lifestyle to women who were tired of the long hair and the hobble skirts. Her trademark was youthful ease, a freedom in physicality and a liberated sportive confidence.