Gabrielle who?

Gabrielle, most known as ‘Coco’, Chanel was born in Saumur, France in 1883. ‘Chanel is the fascinating paradox’, said Vogue in 1957, ‘the couturier who takes no account of fashion, who pursues her own faultlessly elegant line in the quiet confidence that fashion will come back to her- and sure enough it always does.’ The most influential (and most copied) designer of the twentieth century was a non-conformist with a classical streak. Coco Chanel designed the definitive women’s suit, wore masculine clothes, sported a cropped haircut and flaunted a suntan when it was considered to be an emblem of the working classes.In 1916 she outraged the fashion industry by using jersey at a time when it was strictly associated with underwear. ‘This designer made jersey what it is today- we hope she’s satisfied’, snapped Vogue in 1917 (whoa!) ‘It’s almost as much part of our lives as blue serge is.’ Revolutionary in 1917, Chanel still casts a shadow on fashion to present day. Once she had established the basic modern woman’s wardrobe she did not feel the need to be different each year. ‘Let us beware of originality: in couture it leads to costume’, she said.

Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.

Modernity and comfort came naturally to Chanel. This was the key reason why the Classic chanel suit- collarless, simply cut, trimmed with braid and with a discrete chain sewn to the hem- has transcended every single movement of the twentieth century (and we all remember that moment when Carrie made Aidan ‘swear on Chanel’!) ‘Men make dresses in which one can’t move’, Chanel observed. ‘They tell you very calmly that dresses aren’t made for action.’

In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.

The Chanel suit was often accessorized with other signature pieces, such as the quilted shoulder-bag on a gold chain and ivory ballet pumps with black toes. The suit also hung in Chanel’s customer’s closets alongside that other familiar staple of the modern wardrobe: the little black dress (first appearing in 1926, described as Chanel’s Ford). Her style was copied widely- she is credited with introducing pants for women when she wore them in Venice to facilitate travelling by gondola. She also made costume jewelry chic with her strands of chunky fake pearls, and gave us the world’s most famous perfume- Chanel no. 5 (said to be the only thing Marilyn Monroe wore in bed!). Launched in 1921, it was the first designer scent ever!

I don’t do fashion, I am fashion.

Coco Chanel had a disappointing love life and brittle personality. She continually criticized her contemporaries: dismissing Elsa Schiaparelli as a dressmaker, accusing Christian Dior of dressing women like armchairs and giving Cristobal Balenciaga the ultimate backhanded compliment in admiring his design, but questioning his ability to cut (oh, Coco!).

If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.

The first Chanel shop opened in Paris in 1914. By 1930, annual turnover totaled 120 million francs. When war broke out in 1939, Chanel’s salon on rue Cambon closed and she went into exile. When the salon reopened in 1954, Chanel was first interviewed by Vogue. Now almost 70 year-old, she was in a defiant mood: ‘Look at today’s dresses: strapless evening dresses cutting across a woman’s front like this. Nothing is uglier for a woman; boned horrors, that’s what they are.’ On plagiarism: ‘I have always been copied by others. If a fashion isn’t taken up and worn by everybody, it’s not a fashion but an eccentricity, a fancy dress.’

A girl should be two things, classy and fabulous.

By 1969 Chanel had appeared consistently in media for over 50 years. Her place in history was secured. Already a legend, she was immortalized on Broadway in Alan Jay Lerner’s musical Coco, which centered on Chanel’s 1953 comeback; the lead role was played by Katherine Hepburn and the costumes were by Cecil Beaton, who received a coveted Tony award for them. In her twilight years, Chanel lived a solitary existence, residing in the Ritz hotel in Paris.

Fashion fades, only style is eternal. 

The Chanel label found its natural successor, Karl Lagerfeld, in 1983. Lagerfeld’s singular ability to astound, exploit and amuse- often all at the same time- took Chanel to the limit. His arrival coincided perfectly with the mood of the moment; a decade when conspicuous consumption and designer labels became the new religion. Coco Chanel died in her adored Paris in 1971.