“My life didn’t please me so I created my life” Coco Chanel
I have always been a big fan of Coco Chanel, one of the most talented fashion designers of all times, with a luxury brand that keeps succeeding up to these days based on her inspirational designs.
This would have been a predictable destiny for a person who showed her talent since very early in life, when visiting her grandparents during vacations in Moulins, France. However, I have always been attracted by her story, as Chanel’s beginnings were not easy. She lost her mother when she was very young and was abandoned by her father at a catholic orphanage immediately after. Her story is a source of inspiration for anyone, not only in fashion, but in life.
Chanel spent her early years at a Convent, a sad and simple place where she was miserable and alone. All she could see was black and white colours in the nuns’ habits as well as in her own uniform. But Chanel didn’t let the sadness of being in such a place overwhelmed her and later in her life she went back on her memories to take some inspiration by the nuns’ habits and rosaries, that would later become her main statements.
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different” Coco Chanel
Chanel lived alone in the convent until she went to school along with her aunt Adrianne, one year her senior. Both loved to sew and Chanel had learned some skills while living in the convent, but at the beginning they wanted to pursue a career as a singers, dancing for popular cabarets around France. Even with her humble beginnings she was a strong and self confident woman who did not want to be caught up by her painful past. Every day and every night she was working on her future first as a singer, then as a designer.
After a short and not very successful career as a singer, it was clear that Chanel’s path was made to design. Even in her singer times, her passion for fashion was always there and while she was signing, she met wealthy people like Etienne Balsan and Arthur Capel (both her lovers), who gave her the emotional and economic support she needed at the beginning or her career in design.
After this it was all her. Balsan’s female friends who were actrices got attracted to her designs and her ‘rebellious’ style and started to show her creations at the theatre and later on at ‘Les Modes’ magazine and the dream began.
“Fashion in not something that exists in dresses only, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live” Coco Chanel
What was attractive about her designs was the nice feeling of liberty from the corseted and uncomfortable dresses of the time. Chanel borrowed the comfortable jersey’s men style to create dresses and pants. Hats were also a statement without the heavy adornments that were used before, attracting a modern and feminine generation of women who believed that those adornments were impractical and unsuitable for the post-war era. Chanel well said that “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise is not luxury”
Her success led her to open shops in Deauville and Biarritz, both very fashionable French resorts were the reach and famous spent their holidays. At the beginning she was the model of her own designs, going out with ‘masculine’ styled outfits to be seen by the ladies vacationing in town. Both shops were successful and when Chanel returned to Paris the store in Biarriz was selling dresses for large amounts of money.
Even with her success Chanel still had a personal life that was not fulfilled. Capel, the love of her life, married another woman and later died in a car accident, leaving Chanel devastated for losing her emotional support in those years. Later she declared that what followed was not a life of happiness. However, this episode did not end her career either. A successful brand was on her charge and she must go on.
In the following years her brand continued to grow, not only in France, but around the world and she became a fashion icon herself. Her signature cardigan jacket and the little black dress are still part of Chanel’s current collections. It is said that Karl Lagerfeld digs constantly into Chanel’s archives to look for inspiration.
“Fashion fades, only style remains the same” Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel’s designs were timeless. Her achievements and success despite a life of abandonment and tragedy should be an inspiration for all of us. Getting on top of our dreams is not a matter of luck, it is a matter of passion, discipline and constancy.