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Classics: Coco Chanel

December 3, 2009

“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.” – Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel and Jeanne Moreau, Paris, 1957

What inspired her and how she applied the inspiration. What she wanted and how she reached it. It’s more than just fashion that tells me from her life story. I’m fascinated by the way she lived.

I believe in reality in style more than fantasy in fashion.

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, a woman ahead of her time. She was fiercely independent, worked her way up from the bottom, and fought against paralyzing constraints against women at the turn of the 20th century.

Gabrielle was sent to an orphanage run by strict nuns. She hated her years there, yet, inspired by her memories of the nuns who had raised her, and by servants’ uniforms, she decided to make black more chic by adding white at the neck and the cuffs. Then her signature monochrome look was born.

I have already said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute.

She had picked up the nickname Coco while singing in local nightclubs aged 18, where her favourite song was about a missing dog called Who’s Seen Coco In The Trocadero?. It  stayed with her forever.

It was through her singing that Coco met millionaire socialite and heir Etienne Balsan, who lifted her into the world of the upper classes to which she desperately wanted to belong.

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”

She was one of the first designers to adapt typically masculine clothing for women’s fashion, using elements from each of her lovers’ wardrobes. Wearing her own distinctive styles, Coco stood out from the other ladies in Balsan’s group and caught the eye of the man who was to become the love of her life, wealthy English polo player Arthur “Boy” Capel. He financed her first boutique in Paris’s Rue de Cambon in 1910.,_Duke_of_Westminster_with_Coco_Chanel.jpgHugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster and Coco Chanel

As business grew she opened three more shops in rapid succession. The American fashion press was crazy about Coco’s daringly simple style and she became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Her success was meteoric and she soon paid back Boy every penny he had lent her.

Fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (French, 1883-1971) at Lido Beach in 1936Coco Chanel at Lido Beach in 1936

The prewar years in France from 1935-1940 were rich in the decorative arts, putting trendy fashion designers front and center. It was a time when Gabrielle Coco Chanel was “rethinking the suit” to allow for the way women really move.

“Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.”

In 1939, at the onset of World War II, Chanel closed all her shops, claiming that it was not a time for fashion.

Then Hitler invaded Poland and World War II shattered the dream world of endless cocktail parties and silk and organza gowns made to order. The Germans invaded and occupied France.

She spent the war years living in the Hotel Ritz Paris, where she stayed for more than 30 years. (She would die of a heart attack in her private suite here in 1971.) During this time she was widely criticized for having an affair with a German officer and Nazi spy who arranged for her to remain at the hotel during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

In 1943, after four years of professional separation, Chanel contacted Vera Bate Lombardi, who had been her muse and public relations liaison to a number of European royal families since 1925.

Coco Chanel and Vera Bate at the Duke of Westminster’s, Scotland, 1925

Lombardi had offered Chanel the highest connections possible to build the House of Chanel. These connections allowed for the fashion house, and the designer herself, to rise to creative, romantic, social and political power. The guise for Chanel’s 1943 contact with Lombardi was for her original muse to return to work at Chanel, but there was much suspicion surrounding the real reasons. When Lombardi refused to comply with the request to come to Paris, she was arrested as an English spy and thrown into a Roman prison by the Gestapo. After the war was over, Chanel was arrested by the free French for suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. She purportedly offered this explanation for sleeping with the enemy:

“Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover.”

(Story via here) Chanel with Winston Churchill

It is generally believed that Winston Churchill intervened with the French government, convincing them to let his old friend Coco Chanel escape to Switzerland. She moved to Switzerland in 1945, but returned to Paris in 1954, the year she also returned to the fashion world.

Due to her much publicized relationship with the German officer, her new collection was not popular with Parisians. However, it was much applauded by the Americans, who would become her most loyal customers.


“There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time!”

She invented the classic look, the slick elegance which was later adopted by American business women. Coco Chanel believed in an unmistakable look. This look is not subject to eccentricity and fashion. This look is flattering woman and is easy to wear.


“Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics.”

Coco was not just a fashion trendsetter, but a tough businesswoman. She believed her job – above everything – was simply to sell clothes. And, unlike most other designers, she was happy when she saw cheap copies of her clothes on the streets of Paris.

According to Chanel, the biggest mistake for a woman is in trying to change herself. Because the real happiness is in not changing.

She once said,

“I do not like when people speak of the Chanel fashion. Chanel is, above all, a style. Fashion passes, style remains.”

Coco dedicated her life to the pursuit of style and never lost her love for clothes. In 1971 Coco Chanel died at Paris’s Ritz hotel, where she had lived for more than three decades.

If you’re born without wings, do everything you can to grow some.”

“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”


“I love luxury. And luxury lies not in richness and ornateness but in the absence of vulgarity. Vulgarity is the ugliest word in our language. I stay in the game to fight it.”

Coco Chanel: Coco Chanel

(More photos from the old post- here .)


8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2009 5:29 pm

    What an amazing blog post about Coco! Thanks so much for writing this and sharing these images. I have yet to see “Coco Avant Chanel,” but now I’m putting it at the top of my list.

  2. Creole permalink
    March 7, 2010 6:16 am

    I am always working at my machine to make the stitch work with the dream I have for the wings to grow, Chanel empowers me.

  3. LBD permalink
    May 11, 2010 7:01 am

    Just saw Audrey Tautou as Chanel and it was definitely inspiring! The casting of Tautou and the other characters was spot-on brilliant. Thanks for the best biography I’ve found online about Coco Chanel.

  4. November 6, 2010 12:50 am

    Great post and excellent photo story! 🙂

  5. January 4, 2011 1:15 am

    I truly enjoy your post about CoCo Chanel, love the simplicity of the text and rich resources of her photos. Thank you so much!

  6. January 4, 2011 1:22 am

    I truly enjoy your post about CoCo Chanel. I love your simplicity use of text and the rich resources of her photos. Well done!

  7. Angstrom Rabbit permalink
    April 21, 2011 12:19 am

    “Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics.” Chanel can teach us all much about reasons and goals for designing. She was top-notch in the classic and best sense. What a story!

  8. Joe permalink
    January 15, 2012 7:59 pm

    that was great. Thank you :o)
    I just saw the movie and wanted to learn more

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