Just when you thought you knew it all…
Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883 in France. Sadly, her early life was typical of the early 1900’s and was quite the opposite of glamourous. At a young age, Chanel was put in an orphanage after her mother’s death and was raised by nuns. The nuns taught her how to sew which would inevitably be the skill that helped kick start her empire.
Around the age of 20, Chanel had a romantic relationship with Etienne Balsan, who offered to help her start a small business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his wealthier friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Both men were very important in launching Chanel’s first fashion venture and it was their money that initially got her started.
At Chanels first Paris boutique in 1910 she originally sold only hats. This is why if you find a vintage Chanel hat, we recommend holding on tightly and getting it appraised ASAP!
Chanel's next two stores opened in Deauville and Biarritz and that is when she began designing and making clothes. Her first design came in the form of a jersey dress and manages to sell fairly well. She later said to author Paul Morand, “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville.”
Chanel was completely torn apart by the death of Arthur Capel in a car accident in 1919. She later said that with his death she lost everything and it took her some time to dive back into revolutionizing the fashion industry. It wasn't until 1925 when Chanel introduced the Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. This design (and many others) were extremely progressive for the time. Chanel became known for using elements of menswear which was completely unheard of when people were still wearing corsets. So you can imagine the shock when Chanel would even use men’s underwear to sew outfits!
Another revolutionary design from Coco was the ultimate little black dress. She took a colour once associated with death and funerals and showed everyone how crisp, classy and chic it could look. There is a rumour that while at a party and wearing one her black dresses, a woman approached Chanel with a “who do you think you are attitude” and asked her “Who's funeral is it?” Chanel simply responded in return “YOURS."
Reading about Coco Chanel's love life is like stepping into a dramatic movie filled with affairs, feminism, celebrities and Nazis. Yes you read that right. For us, this is the dark part of Chanel's life. During the German occupation, Chanel became involved with Nazi military officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Because of this relationship, she got special permission to stay in her apartment at the Hotel Ritz, which also operated as German military headquarters. After the war ended, Chanel was interrogated about her relationship with von Dincklage, but she was not charged as a collaborator. Shortly after, she had a short, but sweet relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky and even turned down a proposal from Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster. She is quoted as saying, “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel!”
Coco Chanel died on January 10, 1971, at her apartment. She never married, having said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” Hundreds of people got together at Church of the Madeleine to say goodbye to a fashion icon. In tribute, many of the mourners wore Chanel suits and Karl Lagerfeld took over the reins of Chanel, promising to keep her legacy alive. In fact, it was Lagerfeld who created one of our favourite Chanel bags, The Boy Bag. Since Arthur “Boy” Capel was known to be the absolute love of Chanel's life, Lagerfeld decided to create the Boy Bag in honour of their love affair.
Many of Chanel’s original purse designs include a tiny pocket for red lipstick which she said you should never leave the house without. In addition, Chanel included a very shallow pocket in her bag designs that usually confuses buyers. Ultimately, it is meant to hold love letters, like those of Coco's and Arthur's.
Today, Coco Chanel is held privately by the Wertheimer family. Karl Lagerfeld passed away in 2019, but we are confident that whoever takes over, the Chanel legacy will continue to grow the brand in a beautiful way.
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