Coco Chanel – a biography of an emancipated woman

Coco Chanel is a French fashion designer who plays an important role in making women’s clothing more minimalist and comfortable and with masculine elements. Symbolic of her style are the jersey jacket, the little black dress and the perfumes.


Gabrielle Bonneur Chanel was born on August 19, 1883. in Saumur, a town in the Loire Valley. Her parents, Albert Chanel and Jean Devol, were not married at the time, which is against the norm.

Her father is a merchant. She, her sisters and brothers spend a lot of time in the flea markets in western France, where he works and barely earns enough to support his family.

This is a difficult time for lower class women. They are treated as second-hand citizens and are not allowed to vote. Most often they become servants or laborers. Everyone would expect that such a fate awaits Gabriel. Everything changes when her mother dies of tuberculosis. Then her father decided to separate the family and sent her brothers to a farm and her and her sisters to a convent .

She spent her youth there, seeing only her aunts. She learns to sew in the shelter, and her aunt Louise inspires her to be creative in the craft. They add frills and ribbons to simple hats.

When she turned 18, she left the monastery and studied for two more years.

Beginning of the career

In 1903 Gabriel started working in a sewing studio in the small town of Moulin. The owner likes it because it handles the needle and thread well. However, this does not correspond to her dreams and ambitions, which are great despite her modest background. She was attracted by the glamor of the cabaret and she began to appear as a singer. She performs only two songs, “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco”, which is why people in the audience started calling her Coco .

Her charisma attracts the attention of millionaire and amateur athlete Etienne Balsan . Their relationship is doomed not to end in marriage, but that doesn’t stop Gabriel. She took the opportunity to rise in society and became part of France’s elite.

He quickly learns to ride well and this is one of the reasons he started fighting for women to wear more comfortable clothes. She hates corsets that are so tight that they stop breathing, and the plumes do any practical activity torture. Coco says that the designers, who were only men at the time, “forgot that there were women in these clothes.” In it arises the desire to rebel against the orders of the age in which he lives.

That’s when he met Arthur “Boy” Capel . With him she left for Paris – the home of the beautiful, famous and rich. There she opened a hat shop, which was like no other at the time and was a great success.

This was followed by the opening of a boutique in Deauville , a popular resort in France. He is also successful.

Being a woman who finds it difficult to despair, Gabrielle Chanel used the First World War as an opportunity to impose her practical style in clothing design. She makes a collection of jersey clothes, a material previously used exclusively for men’s clothing.

Difficult times follow. Her patron Boy Capel first married and then died in a car accident. He remains her great love.

Collaboration with the Nazis

During World War II, the Nazis occupied Paris. At first, Coco Chanel closed most of her stores because she thought the time was not right for pampering like hats. Eventually, however, she opened them and found herself on very good terms with the Germans. The wives of Nazi officers buy from her perfumes. It gets to the point that she begins a love affair with a German spy who is 13 years younger than her.

All this damaged her reputation and after the war she left her beloved France, as she expected revenge, and lived in Switzerland with her lover.

Chanel’s jacket

In 1954 ribbons are fashionable, corsets are still worn and this infuriates Coco.

Gabrielle Chanel was 71 years old when she returned to Paris, where she opened her own boutique. The clothes she creates are comfortable, minimalist and with clean lines.

From Scotland, with which the Duke of Westminster introduced her, she brought tweed. He used it to sew the iconic Chanel jacket.

Here are some of its features:

  • Four real pockets embroidered with thread in a contrasting or complementary color.
  • Buttons with the Chanel symbol.
  • A chain is sewn into the silk lining, which ensures that the jacket will retain its shape.
  • No collar.

This original approach caused a revolution and was a huge success around the world.

Some of the greatest beauties of the era are his admirers. Among them are Bridget Bardot, Romy Schneider and Grace Kelly.

Gabriel’s successor Karl Lagerfeld combines it with everything – pants, jeans, even a swimsuit. The variety of colors is also huge – pastel, neon or in the classic black and white.

Chanel’s jacket lends itself to all kinds of metamorphoses.

The little black dress

The little black dress appeared in Coco’s collection in 1926. According to the author, this is a garment that is suitable for all occasions.

Until then, black was associated with mourning or religious figures. Gabrielle’s design is believed to have been inspired by the clothes of the nuns among whom she lived.

Her version of the dress frees the female body from the corsets and creates a completely different, clean silhouette. It is most often sewn from jersey or silk. With it, the Parisian chic is born.

The bags

The idea for the bags to have straps and to be worn over the shoulder came from the military. Until then, useful accessories are large, difficult to wear and easy to lose.

The classic Chanel bag has a chain strap, sometimes a leather rope is woven into it.


They are usually beige in color and have a pointed black nose. Beige optically lengthens the legs, and the nose gives grace and elegance.


Gabrielle herself prefers pearls and wears them very often. There is only one collection of high fashion jewelry, which focuses on the most precious stones, namely diamonds. This is a reserved area for men and they do not allow it in it.

She disassembles the jewelry given to her by the Duke of Westminster and simplifies their design.

Chanel makes fluidity a principle and freedom a virtue.

With his usual audacity he presents the collection in his own home, on wax mannequins.

Jewelry becomes a symbol of freedom, not just a gift from a fan. Creativity overcomes ostentation, and lightness overcomes excess. Beauty is not an obligation, but a manifestation of the essence.


In 1923, Chanel launched the Chanel perfume №5. The number comes from her lucky number. The perfume is the most expensive for its time and is a mixture of several fragrances, which is a revolution.

When asked what she goes to bed with, Marilyn Monroe answers “just a few drops of Chanel №5”.


During his long, eventful life, Chanel has financially supported many artists, including Picasso, Debussy, Marriage and Cocteau.

She became a friend and patron of Serge Diaghilev’s ballet troupe. She even wrote the costumes for one of his productions, Le Train Bleu. In it, the dancers wear swimsuits, which is very avant-garde for their time.

Recent years

Gabriel died on January 10, 1971 in his apartment at the Ritz Hotel, where he lived for most of his life. In the end, he has to use morphine to fall asleep.

Her fashion empire was inherited by Karl Lagerfeld, who successfully maintained her reputation. It was his idea that the company logo, without which we could not imagine her bags or shoes. It appeared only in the 80’s.

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