Most popular fashion brand and most requested today. It has been that way since its creation by Coco (Gabrielle) Canal in 1910. Coco has given life to some of the most influential designs in the history of fashion; but there is no doubt that its current creative director, Karl Lagerfeld, has definitely made the fashion house a global phenomenon.
A hard childhood
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur (France) in a humble family. When Chanel was 12 years old, she lost her mother to bronchitis and her father sent Gabrielle, along with her sisters, to the convent of Aubazine, in central France. There she learned to sew with the nuns and in fact many of their later designs were inspired by uniforms and accessories, for both girls and nuns.
Life in Aubazine was such a lasting life that when she turned 18 Gabrielle went to live in a Catholic house in the town of Moulins. Because she had learned to sew in Aubazine, she had soon found herself as a seamstress in a small shop in Moulins.
Gabrielle becomes Coco
At the same time, Gabrielle used to sing in cabaret frequented by cavalry officers. During this time, she received her nickname “Coco” due to the two songs she sang, “Ko Ko Ri Ko”, and “Qui qu’a vu Coco”, although she also said that the name came from the French word “cocotte” (that means woman of low moral level).
At 23, Coco became the lover of Etienne Balsan and heir to a textile fortune. From this moment on, Chanel’s lifestyle improved immensely and soon she was living a luxurious life with days dedicated to activities such as socializing nights with Balsan and her friends. Balsan satisfied all the whims of Chanel, such as beautiful dresses and jewelry. But Chanel had a lot of free time so she started making her own hats since she could not find the styles she preferred. Some of the women who came to Royallieu liked their hats and asked Chanel to make them for them.
With love the brand was born
In 1908, while Chanel was living in Royallieu, she met the man who will become the “love of her life”. Captain Arthur “Boy” Capel was an English aristocrat, a close friend of Balsan. Chanel and Capel fell in love, and as soon as Chanel decided to leave Balsan, she moved to Paris to an apartment paid by Capel.
It was thanks to Capel that Coco was able to enter the world of the fashion. After she arrived to Paris, she wanted to earn her own money as the independent woman that she was. In 1910, she opened a small store located at number 21 rue Cambon, Chanel Modes. Gabrielle Dorziat used one of Chanel’s hats in a work and this way she got the attention of fashionable women in Paris. In 1912 her hats began to appear in the French fashion magazine, Les Modes; and after this, all the ladies of Paris wanted a Chanel hat.
But Chanel’s creativity and success had only just begun. In a trip to Deauville with Capel and her unique style, noticed that she was causing a sensation wherever she went and realized the need for women to have comfortable clothes but that will maintain a certain grace and elegance. So she decided to develop a line of dresses made with a light knit fabric. Once again Capel saw the talent of her lover and got her a store in Deauville, where she would be able to sell her new fashion line easier. The business worked so well that in 1915 Chanel opened a second store in Biarritz, which will give her enough money to repay the initial loan to Capel.
In 1919, Chanel’s fashion business became so profitable that she was able to buy the entire building at 31 rue Cambon, close to her previous location in Paris. With this new store, she set the standard for future fashion stores, where not only dresses could be sold but also a wide variety of accessories.
Chanel continued to find professional satisfaction in her fashion designs, although she never stop looking for ways to expand her business. In 1922 she met Pierre Wertheimer, director of the cosmetic company Bourgeois. Chanel worked with perfumer Ernest Beaux to create the chemical formula for a special fragrance, that soon would be another icon: Chanel No. 5. It was sold exclusively in Chanel stores and was the perfect combination of different scents for the new modern women of the 20s.