Bobbed hair, bright red lips and cigarettes. Through her pearls and costume jewellery Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel hid a secret life from the glaring eye of the world’s media. But who was the person behind the designer sunglasses?
Born from Poor Beginnings
The flat-chested fashionista was not born into the same luxury that she embroiled herself in as a high flying fashion designer. In 1883, the allegedly ‘illegitimate’ Chanel was born into a life of poverty. Her father was a peddler and her mother worked in the poorhouse. Aged six, her mother’s untimely death led her father to send a young Gabriele and her siblings to the convent. Although her early life was lonely and full of sadness, her time spend in the convent allowed her to learn how to sew, a skill that would fuel her later success.
Chanel had a rebellious nature that would eventually manifest itself in her fashion designs. However at the tender age of 18, Chanel secured work as a seamstress but longed for a more exciting life. Chanel ditched her title as a seamstress and instead launched a career as a cabaret singer, inheriting the now trademark name of Coco Chanel.
Coco Chanel: A Talented Rebel
Coco’s adventures as a cabaret singer were just as adventurous as she longed them to be. For some time she played mistress to Etienne Balsan, a rich playboy who moved her to Paris. Balsan’s fortunes meant that Coco started to experiment with fashion designs. She started to create plain, dark coloured dresses- and her name started to spread across Europe.
Coco never liked to sit still for long. Tired of playing second fiddle to Balsan’s wife, she began a relationship with one of his friends named Arthur Chapel- Coco Chanel’s one true love. Coco’s affections for Chapel led to her opening two boutiques in the coastal towns of Deauville and Biarritz. The world of Coco Chanel suits, Coco Chanel dresses and Coco Chanel Sunglasses was about to be born.
It’s All About Style
Coco Chanel’s rags to riches story is hardly conventional; and neither was her sense of style. Chanel cut the corseted silhouettes that limited the fashion world. She introduced the trademark ‘little black dress.’ She created loose-fitting sweaters, knit skirts and blazers; materials and garments that were traditionally masculine.
Coco Chanel was progressive in every part of her life; sexually, socially and professionally. Artists Picasso and Stravinsky, French Filmmaker Jean Cocteau and Russian Ballet star Sergei Diaghilev we all well-known associates of hers. Adopting friends such as these enabled the ambitious fashion designer to fully establish her name and brand.
Unleashing Her Distinctive Scent
Perfume made Coco Chanel immortal. Once her one true love, Chapel died in a car crash, the established fashion designer turned her affections to Dmitri, a Russian Grand Duke. It was through this latest love affair that she met a perfumer. Coco seized her opportunity, and the world’s first ever designer perfume, Chanel No.5 took the retail industry by storm.
Coco Chanel: A Brief Downfall
It was only a matter of time before the start of World War II made an impact on France’s capital city. However, when the Nazi soldiers occupied Paris, Chanel’s reaction sparked controversy. She closed down her business and began a relationship with a Nazi officer who was 13 years her junior. Chanel took up residence with the foreign officer in the Ritz Hotel, relying on her continued perfume sales for income. After the war had ended Chanel was arrested by the French resistance for her less than patriotic wartime activities. Thankfully, Churchill was a good friend of one of Coco’s former lovers, and ensured her quick release.
Coco Chanel: Her Legacy
Although Chanel’s reputation did not fully recover after World War II, she did make a comeback into the fashion world at the age of 71. Many say that her sudden change of interests were sparked by Coco’s jealousy of the success of Christian Dior. Her new line, which included elegant suits was a big hit in the US, but fell short of impressing fashion critics.
Her popularity and brand saw her rise from the clutches of total controversy. Chanel Sunglasses, LBD’s, hand bags and loose-fitting clothing transformed the fashion industry and the bolshie, perhaps over-confident designer is regarded as one of the best in the world, even after her death in 1971.