Who Was Coco Chanel?
Fashion designer Coco Chanel, born August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France, is famous for her timeless designs, trademark suits, and little black dresses. Chanel was raised in an orphanage and taught to sew. She had a brief career as a singer before opening her first clothes shop in 1910. In the 1920s, she launched her first perfume and eventually introduced the Chanel suit and the little black dress, with an emphasis on making clothes that were more comfortable for women. She died on January 10, 1971.
Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. She herself became a much-revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls. As Chanel once said,“luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
Her early years, however, were anything but glamorous. After her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father, who worked as a peddler. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life’s work. Her nickname came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called “Coco.” Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,’” according to an article in The Atlantic.
Fashion and Fragrance Pioneer
Around the age of 20, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsan, who offered to help her start a millinery business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his even wealthier friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Both men were instrumental in Chanel’s first fashion venture.
Opening her first shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel started out selling hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes. Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,” she once told author Paul Morand.
In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. Perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” Chanel once explained. The fragrance was in fact also backed by department store owner Théophile Bader and businessmen Pierre and Paul Wertheimer, with Chanel developing a close friendship with Pierre. A deal was ultimately negotiated where the Wertheimer business would take in 70 percent of Chanel No. 5 profits for producing the perfume at their factories, with Bader receiving 20 percent and Chanel herself only receiving 10 percent. Over the years, with No. 5 being a massive source of revenue, she repeatedly sued to have the terms of the deal renegotiated
1 “My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.”
2 “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”
3 “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”
4 “Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
5 “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”
6 “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
7 “You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life.”
8 “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
9 “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
10 “The best things in life are free. The second-best are very expensive.”