Gabrielle Chanel, known in the world of haute couture as Coco Chanel (1883-1971), was a French businesswoman and designer who created the prestigious fashion firm Chanel. Her career in the world of sewing led her to be considered one of the most influential designers and businesswomen of the 20th century.
Her creations in the world of fashion made Coco Chanel a groundbreaking designer, unlike anything seen up to that time. Her success not only took her to the top of the fashion world, but she also had a major influence in the perfume industry thanks to her Chanel No. 5 fragrance.
Origins of Coco Chanel
Born in 1883 in the French town of Saumur, she spent part of her youth in an orphanage and began sewing in Moulins, when she got her first job as a tailor’s assistant. She felt a great interest in the show and specifically in the cabaret, which led her to be known by the nickname of Coco. However, over time she realized that her talent was not in the world of cabaret. It was her haute couture that was going to bring her success.
Returning from Vichy to Moulins, he met Etien Balsan, a young man of good economic position. Thanks to him, Coco discovered luxury and made her first forays into high society.
At that time, Coco was already creating her own clothes and her designs were sober as well as elegant. In 1908 she met the British Arthur Edward Capel, a friend of Balsan. Both Balsan and Capel were romantically linked to Coco.
In 1910 Coco Chanel ended up opening her first establishment in Paris, at 21 Rue Cambon. Not only did her hats cause a sensation on the Parisian streets, but her clothing enjoyed wide acceptance and prestige.
All this led him to open establishments in Deauville and Biarritz. Despite the fact that France was mired in the First World War, Coco Chanel’s business career was on the rise.
Coco Chanel: A prestigious designer
The meteoric rise of Coco Chanel brought her designs to the pages of the famous fashion magazine Vogue in 1916. Her comfortable and elegant creations were all the rage and by 1918 she had more than 300 employees on staff at her Paris establishment.
This stage of success was followed by a severe personal setback with the death of Capel in 1919. All this caused Coco, very affected by the loss of Capel, to turn to black dress designs, among which the little black dress stands out. Despite this, Coco Chanel did not give up her business and professional activity and in 1921 she launched the famous Chanel Nº5 perfume on the market.
Around 1924, his forays into the perfume sector led him to create the company Chanel Parfums together with the Wertheimer brothers. However, perfumes were not her main source of income, since Coco only received 10% of the profit.
His versatility led him to enter the world of jewelry, where pearls were his most prominent item. Meanwhile, his tweed suits, skirt suits and knitted jumpers were causing a sensation in society. Up to 4,000 employees served his stores.
The outbreak of the second great world conflict in 1939 caused the closure of all its establishments except the one in Paris, because, in Coco’s opinion, war and fashion were not compatible.
This stage has brought with it a strong controversy regarding the figure of Coco Chanel. Legislation made it illegal for Jews to own businesses, so Coco Chanel attempted to gain full control of Chanel Parfums by expelling its Jewish partners.
Furthermore, there is a significant controversy towards Coco Chanel due to certain reports that describe her as anti-Semitic and that even linked her to German espionage. In fact, she Coco got arrested for it. She was eventually released and settled in Switzerland.
Professional career after the war
After living in the Swiss city of Lausanne, in 1954 Coco made the decision to return to Paris. The French designer resumed her activity with force and put her renowned boutiques back into operation. Not long after, a new and emblematic creation arrived from the hand of Coco Chanel, when she landed the 2.55 bag on the market.
The popularity of Coco Chanel and her designs continued to grow and spread beyond France. Proof of this is that Vogue USA magazine echoed her designs or that in 1957 she was awarded the Neiman Marcus Award for her distinguished service in the world of fashion. Finally, Coco Chanel died in 1971 at the Ritz Hotel, in the city of Paris.
Despite her passing, Coco Chanel’s legacy has lived on. Her designs marked a before and after, her perfumes enjoy a great reputation worldwide and her fashion brand is one of the most prestigious in the world.