“You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life” – wise words from Gabrielle Bonheur ‘Coco’ Chanel, the legendary designer who is most certainly remembered for her own impeccable style. Her timeless creations of tweed jackets, quilted bags, faux pearls, LBDs (Little Black Dresses) have become the uniform of understated elegance today.
“Fashion fades; only style remains the same.” – Coco Chanel.
Born on August 19, 1883 in Samur, France, Chanel’s early years were anything but glamorous. She grew up in an orphanage from age 12, after her mother’s death. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew – a skill that would lead to her life’s work.
Chanel’s first taste of clothing success came from a dress she made from an old jersey on a chilly day. She offered to make it for the many people who asked where she got the dress. In her words, ‘’my fortune is built on that old jersey that I had put on because it was cold.’ ’In the 1920s, Chanel launched her first perfume- Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. By 1929, it was the best-selling perfume in the world, with droves of people lining up on the Rue Cambon, to get their hands on the minimalist glass bottle, which has become a design history marvel itself.
“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” said Chanel.
Chanel’s little black dress was another revolutionary design. She took a colour usually associated with mourning and showed how elegant it could be for evening wear. Chanel’s revolutionary designs broke away from restrictive styles in favour of practicality. Her designs were loose, fluid and androgynous. She freed women from corsets, lace frills, and other confining garments by offering them sailor shirts and wide-leg pants instead. She wanted women to be free in her clothes, just like men did in theirs. In many ways, her work was a form of female emancipation. Her foresight of female empowerment through fashion allowed her designs to stand the test of time.
“Nothing is more beautiful than freedom of the body,” she once said, and her designs lived by these words.
Chanel’s classic tweed suit is undoubtedly her most recognizable ensemble. Crafted from tweed, a fabric usually reserved for men. Her collarless blazers embellished with braided trim and decorative buttons were a favourite of Jackie O, Kate Middleton and Barbara Walters alike. These pieces remain as relevant as ever.
The Chanel 2.55 handbag created in February 1955 is another symbol of her timeless luxury. The name 2.55 represents the month and year of its creation. She invented a supple new style of shoulder strap that is uniquely strong and light, which allows a woman’s hands to remain free. Coco Chanel explained the reason behind this innovation, she stated – “I got fed up with holding my purses in my hands and losing them, so I added a strap and carried them over my shoulder.”
If not for Coco Chanel, women might still have been wearing skirts and dresses only. Chanel was born at a time when high-society French women only wore skirts. Coco was one of the pioneers of women’s trousers. She began designing trousers for women, and soon they became a fashion item in every daring woman’s closet. She loved wearing her boyfriend’s trousers and believed women too should have the freedom of movement in comfortable trousers, called yachting pants, especially while doing sports and other physical activities.
Chanel was the first designer to create super chic costume jewellery. She introduced fake large pearls and glittering gemstones to the fashion industry. She believed it was best to have a pile of imitation jewels than stick to a few expensive ones.
In my honest opinion, I consider Coco Chanel the undisputed Grande Dame of fashion. She is the unheralded Queen of feminine chic fashion. I fell in love with her brand the first moment I perceived her coco mademoiselle fragrance. More than a century after it was founded, Chanel remains one of the best-known brands globally. Chanel worked until she was in her 80s, passing away at her Ritz Apartment in Paris on January 10, 1971.