Coco Chanel's legacy is so great that there is almost no need to introduce her. Every time you see a woman wearing monochrome, or oversized pearls or even trousers, Chanel is still sublimely, continuously referenced. Fans from all over the world pilgrimage to her Paris appartement like it was a sacred shrine for one simple reason: it was and still is preserved as she left it. Never before, and probably never again, will one woman influence so profoundly the face of style - as Coco Chanel said herself "Fashion fades, only style remains the same".
No one expected that in 1954 at the age of 70 she would return to Paris, bringing a new collection with her.
On February 5th (‘5’ chosen by her as her lucky number) she presented it to the world. The verdict of critics was ferocious. “A fiasco,” was how the Daily Mail opened their story. Chanel ignored the criticism and soon her feminine and easy-fitting designs won over shoppers in Great Britain and America. In 1969, Chanel’s fascinating life story became the basis for the Broadway musical Coco starring Katharine Hepburn as the legendary designer. Coco Chanel died on January 10th, 1971, at her apartment in the Hotel Ritz. In 1983 designer Karl Lagerfeld took the reins at Chanel’s company and continued her legacy. Her namesake company thrives up to this day, generate hundreds of millions in sales each year.
In 1943, after four years of professional separation, Chanel contacted Lombardi, who was living in Rome. She invited Lombardi to come to Paris and renew their work together. This was actually a cover for “Operation Modellhut”, an attempt by Nazi spymaster Walter Schellenberg to make secret contact with Lombardi’s relative Winston Churchill. When Lombardi refused, she was arrested as a British spy by the Gestapo. Chanel was later charged as a collaborator, but avoided trial due to an intervention by the British Royal family.
In 1924 Paul and Pierre Wertheimer, whom Coco Chanel knew well, had approached her with the idea of incorporating as Parfums Chanel, in France and world-wide. This meant that Chanel herself owned shares representing 10 per cent of the capital and 10 per cent of the profits from all branches world-wide. Ten years later Chanel felt that she was being cheated, as the products were being made by the Wertheimers' own company, Bourjois, and by 1939 she wanted out. The war years meant that the fight dragged on and in 1946 the two parties settled out of court.
1921 saw the introduction of her first perfume Chanel No. 5. Earnest Beaux created the fragrance for Coco and she named it after her lucky number 5. The fragrance was a success. Parfums Chanel was founded in 1924 by Pierre Wertheimer to produce and sell perfumes and beauty products.
She was also the first to make costume jewelry socially acceptable. She popularized the use of "fake" jewels by lavishly using rope upon rope of imitation pearls and other other fake stones to enhance her simple, understated clothes. The simplicity of her designs made them easy to copy in the factory and she is credited with being the designer who had the greatest effect on the early development of American mass production.
Chanel was an astute businesswoman and skillful publicist, quickly expanding her work to include skirts, jerseys in stockinette jersey, and accessories. Recognized as the designer of the 1920s, Chanel initiated an era of casual dressing, appropriate to the occasion, for relaxed outdoor clothing created to be worn in comfort and without constricting corsets, liberating women with loosely fitting garments. Her style was of uncluttered simplicity, incorporating practical details. In 1916 Chanel introduced jersey, a soft elasticated knit previously only used for undergarments, as the new fashion fabric. Wool jersey produced softer, lighter clothing with uncluttered fluid lines. She made simple jersey dresses in navy and grey, cut to flatter the figure rather than to emphasize and distort the natural body shape. The demand for her new nonconformist designs by the wealthy was so great and the use of jersey so successful Chanel extended her range, creating her own jersey fabric designs, which were manufactured by Rodier.
World War I led her to move to the resort town of Deauvile, where Chanel became the mistress of a rich ex-military officer and textile heir Etienne Balsan in 1908. At the age of 23, she became his mistress and moved into his chateau, where she lived for three years. It was here that she started designing and creating hats as a diversion, which then turned into a commercial venture. She then started a relationship with a wealthy English Industrialist called Arthur Edward 'Boy' Capel who was a friend of Balsan. He installed her into a Parisian apartment and financed her first shops.
Her father was a small-wares peddler, her mother came from a family of a peasant. A little girl was named Gabrielle Chanel. Her mother died when Chanel was twelve years old. One week later she was abandoned by her father, who left her to be raised by the nuns in a provincial orphanage.
There was no future, at that time, for a poor girl brought up by the charity. But the dream for escape was made in her mind at this early age. Never in her life would Coco Chanel mention her younger years spent in orphanage. She would work relentlessly to erase all the traces of the unhappy fate that had been meant for her.
Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. She herself became a much revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls. As Chanel once said,“luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
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