The little black dress. The quilted handbag. The iconic wool jacket. Costume jewelry. Sportswear.
Today is the 129th birthday of a self-made (and self-invented) woman who defied convention, revolutionized the way women dressed, and replaced “fashion” with timeless elegance.
Chanel’s portrait hangs at the entrance to the Paris couture shop and atelier.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and her siblings were raised in an orphanage, after their widower father abandoned them. Chanel spent many years fiercely finding her own independent place in the world, at a time when a woman’s choices were limited.
Photo credit: Time/Getty (via Wikipedia)
Trained in tailoring, Chanel’s career began with her millinery shop, Chanel Modes, selling understated and elegant hats that she designed and made herself. As her reputation grew, so did her offerings. At the onset of World War I (when fashionable ladies needed clothes but had no servants to help them into their corsets, form-bending gowns, and hats the size of fruit baskets) Chanel seized the world of couture with her jersey knit outfits, launching the concept of sportswear which — 100 years later — shows no sign of ever going out of style. The success of her line allowed her to pay back her lover and patron, Arthur “Boy” Capel and ensured her financial independence for the rest of her life
31 rue Cambon, Paris.
Chanel was not without controversy. She could be appallingly, scathingly rude; had disdain for her workers’ needs to have Sundays off; often lied about her life; and was addicted to morphine. But most disturbing is the allegation that she may have served as a Nazi spy during World War II.
Even with that shadow looming over her legacy, Chanel’s impact on modern fashion — not just an impact, but the very creation of modern fashion — is not about to ebb anytime soon. Her vision and its effect on the world would cause Time magazine to name her as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century (the only fashion designer to be included). Chanel died in 1971, but her spirit and influence are alive and well.
Gabrielle Chanel, circa 1957
“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.“
- Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel