Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie
Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971)
” Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel was a leading French modernist designer, whose patterns of simplicity and style revolutionised women’s clothing. She was the only designer to be listed in Time 100 most influential people of the Twentieth Century. In the 1960’s, a Broadway musical was made about her life starring Katharine Hepburn
It was in the 1920’s, that Coco Chanel left a lasting mark on Women’s fashion and design. Up until the First World War, women’s clothing had been quite restrictive and tended to involve full length skirts which were impractical for many activities. Coco Chanel helped create women’s clothing that was simpler and more practical. She also introduced trousers and suits for women – something which had not been done before.
“Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape.” – Coco Chanel
She also created her famous Chanel No.5 scent and this has been a lasting trademark.
Most sources suggest she was born in 1883, though this was a closely guarded fact – with Coco not keen on revealing her birth date.
Orphaned from an early age, she worked with her sister in a milliner in Deauville. Later, she opened a shop in 1912 and after a spell of nursing during the first world war founded a couture house in the Rue Cambon in Paris.
It was in the post war period that she felt the need for a revolution in women’s clothes. She began by liberating women from the bondage of the corset and encouraged a casual but elegant range of clothes.
With a black sweater and 10 rows of pearls Chanel revolutionized fashion’ – Dior on Coco Chanel.
The 1920’s were a significant period of liberation for women. It was a decade where women received the vote in several western countries. It was also a time, when women were increasingly seen in professions and jobs, previously the reserve of men. Her fashion symbolised some of these social and political changes.
Significant items of clothing Coco Chanel helped pioneer included:
- the collarless cardigan jacket
- the bias cut dress – labelled a Ford by one critic because everyone had one.
- The shoe string shoulder strap.
- The floating evening scarf
- The wearing together of junk and real jewels.
In 1938 she retired from the fashion business. However, 16 years later she made a determined comeback after becoming fed up at seeing French fashion become dominated by men.
Her first post war collection was not well received by the critics but it proved immensely popular with the general public. Rich and famous women once again adopted the Chanel look and she had shown her lasting influence on the industry.
She prided herself on her great taste, fashion and practicality combined with an awareness of what people wanted. It was this that made her the most recognisable name in world fashion.