In celebration of the fashion icon and our very favorite Leo, this week’s Brief History of an Incredible Woman is dedicated to the one and only, Coco.
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, a.k.a Coco Chanel, was born in 1883 to Jeanne Devolle, a laudrywoman and Albert Chanel, a street vendor. Gabrielle was their second child, they would have six all together. When Gabrielle’s mother died at the age of 31, her father sent the children to the convent of Aubazine. Here, she was raised by nuns until her teenage years.
At 17, Gabrielle left the convent to become a seamstress by day and a cabaret performer by night. At the cabaret, she became famous for performing Ko-Ko-Ri-Ko and was nicknamed Le Petite Coco.
Gabrielle had a few tumultuous affairs in her lifetime but one of her most important relationships was her love affair with Arthur Capel, who helped her finance her first shop. In 1913, she opened a storefront in Normandy followed, in 1915, by a second couture salon in Biarritz. Her clothing was revolutionary: the silhouettes we’re athletic and inspired by menswear, the materials were soft jersey and did not prescribe to the laced-up, corseted fashions of the earlier era’s.
In 1918, all seemed to be looking up for Gabrielle. She acquired an entire building at 31 rue Cambon – one of the most fashionable districts in Paris and she was officially registered as a couturier. But, in 1919, Arthur Capel died in a car crash and she was devastated. Despite her grief, she continued to rise to stardom and in the coming years she would become one of the world’s most acclaimed designers: collaborating with Ernest Beaux to create Chanel No.5, designing costumes for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe and Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s most coveted film stars, debuting a jewelry collection, a handbag collection and a beauty line.
In her lifetime, Gabrielle befriended Winston Churchill, retired and came back to work (because she felt there were too many men dominating women’s fashions), invented the Little Black Dress and launched the early incarnation of the fashion boutique (selling accessories, jewelry and clothes all in her one store). She was a pioneer, a rule-breaker, a creator and a survivor. She was designing couture collections up until her death in 1971. She endured plenty of scandal and trauma in her lifetime but she still remains the epitome of the word chic.
Happy Birthday, Coco.
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”