1883 – Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel is born in Saumur France on 19th August.
1895 – Coco’s mother dies and her father refuses to take care of the 5 children. Therefor Gabrielle (12years) and her older sister Julie are shipped off to an orphanage.
1900 – At age 17 she leaves the orphanage and is sent to a convent in Moulins, France.
1905-1908 – Gabrielle adopted the name Coco during a brief career as a cafe and concert singer at Moulins. There she met the young French wealthy textile heir Etienne Balsan and became his mistress for the next three years. It was a life style of self-indulgence, Balsan lavished Chanel with the beauties of “the rich life”— diamonds, dresses, and pearls. His wealth and leisure allowed Coco the cultivation of a social set in the high society.
1909 – Chanel moves to Paris and starts designing hats for friends. This is when she realises that she belongs in a world of opulence and she makes friends with artists and writers living in Paris. Her hat designs are clean and simple and are favoured among young women who are rejecting the elaborate hats that are in vogue.
“… two gentlemen were outbidding for my hot little body.”
1910 – Now Chanel’s new lover, Boy Chapel a friend of her ex-liaison Balsan throws some money at her and she opens a hat shop on rue Cambon in Paris. She has a crisp white awning out the front of the shop with ‘Coco Chanel’ painted on it in black letters and this marks the beginning of the famous double ‘C’ Chanel logo.
1913 – Again with the help of Boy Chapel, Chanel opens a second store selling sportswear in Deauville France. Women are beginning to despise their restrictive under garments and Chanel begins developing clothing in new shapes that don’t require the re-positioning of a women’s internal organs.
1914 – Chanel uses her business brain to cash in on the war – Realising that women now need to work she designs simple, classic clothes that women can work and play in. She uses men’s designs and adapts them for women. Pullover tops, cardigans and sports jackets are her most popular pieces and modern young women flock to buy her comfortable, practical and stylish designs.
1915 – Chanel opens a third shop this time in Biarritz, a resort town on the coast of France. She recognises that the wealthy vacationers of this town have plenty of money to waste so she creates one-of-a-kind evening dresses that sell for exorbitant amounts. She imports trimmings and fabrics that are not available in France due to the war. The decadence and rarity of her designs are sought after amongst those that can afford them.
1916 – Chanel’s stores are so successful that by the end of the year she has three hundred staff in her employment. Her success means that she is able to pay back her loan from Boy Chapel and becomes totally and completely financially independent. For a woman in 1916, this is a remarkable achievement. Apparently Boy Chapel was surprised to get his money back as loans made to women back then were considered gifts rather than loans. She is the first designer to use jersey in outer garments as well as underwear and is fast developing a radical reputation for herself.
1918 – Chanel is devastated as after an 8 year relationship with Boy Chapel he grows tired of waiting for her to marry him. So he marries the daughter of an English pioneer, Diana Wyndham. Boy Chapel and Chanel remain close friends. Around this time Chanel takes the shape of the chemise undergarment and designs one of the first 1920′s drop-waist ‘sack’ dresses. She is becoming a fashion icon herself and young women are starting to copy her look – slim, elegant and youthful with short, neat hair and bright red lipstick.
1919 – Boy Chapel dies in a car accident.
1921 – Chanel has a new man in her life, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich. At age thirty-eight Chanel launches her most famous perfume – Chanel No.5
1925 – Chanel meets the Duke of Westminster in Monte Carlo, marking the beginning of their 5 year relationship.
1929 – Chanel opens a boutique for her accessories and Chanel No.5 is established as the leading scent in the world. She is the first designer to make costume jewelery fashionable, even desirable. Before Chanel it was considered tacky to wear anything other than real gems.
1930 – The Duke leaves Chanel and marries Loelia Mary Ponsonby.
1931 – Chanel begins designing clothes for Hollywood films and signs a lucrative 1 million dollar contract.
1930′s – Chanel’s position as fashion leader is threatened by Italian designer Elsa Schiaperelli. Chanel’s designs are starting to be seen as frumpy and Elsa is cornering the popular youth market. Chanel’s classic designs are seen as boring and the whimsical and worldly ‘Schap’ is taking the fashion world by storm. Chanel becomes romantically involved with artist Paul Iribarnegaray. She also releases a new collection, comfortable in the knowledge that there are elegant and sophisticated women who prefer her designs. Obviously she is correct in this assumption.
1936 – During troubled times in France, Chanel is faced with the strike of at least a hundred of her workers. She fires them, realises she actually needs them and then hires them all back. She reluctantly concedes to their demands but builds herself a reputation as a rogue employer.
1939 – The outbreak of World War II – Chanel declared it was ‘no time for fashion’ and took a fifteen year break from her beloved business. She lives off the royalties of her famous perfume. Chanel closes her fashion houses and starts a relationship with German officer Hans Gunther von Dincklage.
1940′s – Fashion designer Chistian Dior starts to dominate the styles of the time with an exaggerated silhouette and brings back the use of restrictive corsetry. Chanel thought Dior’s New Look was ridiculous and that his large skirted, tiny waisted designs were totally unsuitable for the modern world.
1954 – Chanel, aged seventy, presents a new collection for the first time in 15 years. The reviews are quite critical and many say that Chanel should have stayed in retirement.
1971 – Coco Chanel dies, aged eighty seven.
- Chanel sacrificed so much to become the legend that she is today. She had several long love affairs which ended either with the sudden death of her partner or his sudden departure as he found another woman. It’s obvious that her top priority was her business and that she never had the time or desire for marriage and children. Although there have been speculations about her “nephew André Palasse” being Coco’s son from Balsan, it was never proven.
- Coco considered five to be her lucky number and presented all her collections in fives. Her collections would be shown on the fifth day of the month and her famous perfume is of course, Chanel No.5.
- Gabrielle’s nickname “Coco” is possibly based on two popular songs with which she became identified (during her short career as a singer) “Ko Ko Ri Ko,” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco,” or it was an allusion to the French word for kept woman :cocotte
- 1983 – Karl Lagerfeld becomes design director for the House of Chanel and slowly rebuilds the damaged reputation of one of the oldest fashion houses in Paris.
Day dress, ca. 1924
Evening dress, ca. 1926–27
Silk, metallic threads, sequins
Evening coat, ca. 1927
Silk, metallic thread
“God knows I wanted love. But the moment I had to choose between the man I loved and my dresses, I choose the dresses.”
“After fifty you have to deserve your face”
“I never looked so much for someone to love, as for somebody to love me”
Day ensemble- The little black dress, ca. 1927
Silk, wool, metal
Day ensemble, ca. 1927
Shirt, ca. 1935–37
Evening ensemble, 1936
Ivory silk lace with ivory silk tulle
Top 10 life and style rules from the fashion icon
1. The Little Black Dress is always appropriate. Creating her signature LBD in 1926, it’s a style staple that lives on forever!
2. Find what works: “The best colour in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.”
3. If afraid of color go for monochrome: “Women think of all colours except the absence of colour. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”
4. It must look good on YOU: “A beautiful dress may look beautiful on a hanger, but that means nothing. It must be seen on the shoulders, with the movement of the arms, the legs, and the waist.”
5. Make an effort. Always! “I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness.” So no more hitting the streets in slippers and rollers..
6. Coco favoured classic pearls but less was always more to her: “When accessorising, always take off the last thing you put on.”
7. Be selective with trends: “Fashion changes, but style endures.”
8. Want to get noticed? Play it chic: “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
9. Everyone should own a tweed box jacket. They even smarten up jeans.
10. Make this your mantra: “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
Evening dress, 1938
Black silk net with polychrome sequins
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
Cocktail ensemble, ca. 1964
Black silk and synthetic pile; ivory polyester blend damask with black nylon jersey
Evening ensemble, spring/summer 1992
Karl Lagerfeld (German, born 1938), for House of Chanel (French, founded 1913)
Silk, cotton, metal, wood