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Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, 1920
Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel
19 August 1883(1883-08-19)
Loire Valley, France***
Died 10 January 1971 (aged 87)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Education Catholic Monastery in Aubazine
Labels Chanel
Awards Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, 1957

Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971)[1] was a pioneering French fashion designer whose modernist philosophy, menswear-inspired fashions, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her an important figure in 20th-century fashion. She was the founder of the famous fashion brand Chanel. Her extraordinary influence on fashion was such that she was the only person in the field to be named on Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.[2]


Early life

Chanel was born on 19 August 1883 in the small city of Saumur, Loire Valley, France. She was the second daughter of traveling salesman Albert Chanel and Jeanne Devolle. Coco was born in a peasant village. Her birth was recorded the following day. Two employees of the hospital went to city hall and declared the child female. The hospice employees were illiterate, so when the mayor François Poitu wrote down the birth, no one knew how to spell Chanel so the mayor improvised and recorded it with an "s," making it Chasnel.[3] This misspelling made the tracing of her roots almost impossible for biographers when Chanel later rose to prominence. Her parents married in 1883. She had five siblings: two sisters, Julie (1882–1913) and Antoinette (born 1887) and three brothers, Alphonse (born 1885), Lucien (born 1889) and Pierre (born and died 1891). In 1895, when she was 12 years old, Chanel's mother died of tuberculosis and her father left the family a short time later because he needed to work to raise his children. Because of his work, the young Chanel spent six years in the orphanage of the Roman Catholic monastery of Aubazine, where she learned the trade of a seamstress. School vacations were spent with relatives in the provincial capital, where female relatives taught Coco to sew with more flourish than the nuns at the monastery were able to demonstrate. When Coco turned eighteen, she left the orphanage, and the ambitious young girl took off for the town of Moulins to become a cabaret singer. While she failed to get steady work as a singer, it was here that she met rich, young French textile heir Étienne Balsan, to whom she soon became an acknowledged mistress, keeping her day job in a tailoring shop.

Hat by Chanel, 1912. Published in Les Modes.

Balsan lavished on her the beauties of "the rich life:" diamonds, dresses and pearls. (Note that in France, mistresses have been acknowledged for centuries among the wealthy, though the members of the occupation, such as Chanel, were disparaged in private as upper-class prostitutes). While living with Balsan, Chanel began designing hats as a hobby, which soon became a deeper interest of hers. After opening her eyes, as she would say, Coco left Balsan and took over his apartment in Paris. In 1913, she opened up her very first shop which sold a range of fashionable raincoats and jackets. Situated in the heart of Paris it wasn't long before the shop went out of business and Chanel was asked to surrender her properties. This did not discourage her; it only made her more determined. During the pre-war era, Chanel met up with an estranged and former best friend of Étienne Balsan, Arthur "Boy" Capel, with whom she soon fell in love. With his assistance, Chanel was able to acquire the property and financial backing to open her second millinery shop in Brittany. Her hats were worn by celebrated French actresses, which helped to establish her reputation. In 1913, Chanel introduced women’s sportswear at her new boutique in Deauville, in the Rue Gontaut-Biron; Marthe, Countess de Gontaut-Biron (daughter of American diplomat John George Alexander Leishman), was Chanel's first aristocratic client. Her third shop and successor to her biggest store in France was located in Deauville, where more women during the World War I era came to accept her view that women were supposed to dress for themselves and not their men.

Later in life, she concocted an elaborate false history for her humble beginnings. Chanel would steadfastly claim that when her mother died, her father sailed for America to get rich and she was sent to live with two cold-hearted spinster aunts. She even claimed to have been born in 1893 as opposed to 1883, and that her mother had died when Coco was two instead of twelve. All this was done to diminish the stigma that poverty, orphanhood, and illegitimacy bestowed upon unfortunates in nineteenth-century France.

In 1920, she was introduced by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev to world famous composer Igor Stravinsky (who composed 'The Rite of Spring'), to whom she extended an offer for him and his family to reside with her. During this temporary sojourn it was rumoured that they had an affair.

Later years

In 1925, Vera Bate Lombardi, reputedly the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Cambridge,[4] became Chanel's muse, and also her liaison to a number of European royal families. Chanel established the English look based upon Lombardi's personal style. Lombardi also had the highest possible social connections. She introduced Chanel to her uncle, the Duke of Westminster, her cousin, the Duke of Windsor, and many other aristocratic families.[5]

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops. She believed that it was not a time for fashion.[citation needed] She lived in the Hôtel Ritz Paris on and off for more than 30 years, making the hotel her Paris home even during the German occupation. During that time she was criticized for having an affair with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer and Nazi spy who arranged for her to remain in the hotel.[2][6] She also maintained an apartment above her couture house at 31 rue Cambon and built Villa La Pausa in Roquebrune on the French Riviera.

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.[5][7] 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.[5]

Walter Kutschmann, who was responsible for the murder of thousands of Poland's Jews early in World War II, was transferred to France in 1943 where he became Chanel's Paris SS contact. Chanel was a very close friend of Walter Schellenberg to the extent that when he died penniless of cancer in Milan, Chanel paid for his funeral. Kutschmann made frequent trips to Spain with Chanel with large sums of money passing from Kutschmann to Chanel.[8]

In 1945, she moved to Switzerland, eventually returning to Paris in 1954, the same year she returned to the fashion world. Her new collection did not have much success with the Parisians because of her relationship with the Nazis; However, it was much applauded by the British and Americans, who became her faithful customers.[9]

Personal life

Coco had affairs with some of the most influential men of the time, but she never married. The reason may be found in her answer, when asked why she did not marry the Duke of Westminster: "There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel."[10]

In deference to Chanel, the Duke of Westminster had her logo (the double C's) built into the posts in the city of Westminster (London).[citation needed]

Film depictions

Chanel Solitaire (1981), directed by George Kaczender and starring Marie-France Pisier, Timothy Dalton and Rutger Hauer.

The American television movie Coco Chanel debuted on 13 September 2008 on Lifetime Television, starring Shirley MacLaine as a 70-year-old Chanel. Directed by Christian Duguay, the film also starred Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel, Olivier Sitruk as Boy Capel, and Malcolm McDowell. The movie could be viewed as rewriting history for the Chanel company, as it portrayed Coco's mistress life as love stories, left out her Nazi collaboration and her use of royal connections to avoid trial. The movie also left out possible comparisons between her and Mata Hari, (the famous spy of World War I who was also a dancer and courtesan to the rich). However, any such comparison to Mata Hari may be viewed favorably today as she was said by the Gestapo to be working for the British.[11]

There is also a film starring Audrey Tautou as the young Coco, titled Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel), which was released on 22 April 2009. Filming on the project began 15 September 2008. Audrey Tautou is the new spokeswoman of Chanel S.A.

Another film concerns the affair between Chanel and the composer Igor Stravinsky. Chosen to close the Cannes Film Festival of 2009, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is directed by Jan Kounen and stars Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen. The film is based on the 2002 novel Coco & Igor by Chris Greenhalgh.[12]

Two more projects are said to be in the works: one directed by Daniele Thompson.[13]

Broadway production Coco

Chanel was portrayed by Katharine Hepburn on Broadway in the 1969 musical Coco, with music by André Previn, lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner, musical direction by Robert Emmett Dolan, orchestration by Hershy Kay, and dance arrangements by Harold Wheeler.

After 40 previews, the production opened on 18 December 1969 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, where it ran for 329 performances. Hepburn was nominated for a Tony Award.

Literary depictions

Coco & Igor is a novel, written by Chris Greenhalgh, which depicts the affair between Chanel and Igor Stravinsky and the creative achievements that this affair inspired. The novel was first published in 2003.

In 2008 a children's book entitled Different like Coco was published. It depicted the humble childhood of Coco Chanel and chronicled how she made drastic changes to the fashion industry.

The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman is a novel written by Karen Karbo. Published in 2009, it chronicles the humble beginnings and legendary achievements of Coco Chanel while providing insight and advice on everything from embracing the moment to living life on your own terms.


  1. ^ "Madamoiselle Chanel: The Perennially Fashionable". Chanel. Retrieved 2006-10-13. 
  2. ^ a b Ingrid Sischy (1998-06-08). "Coco Chanel". TIME 100 - The Most Important People of the Century. TIME. 
  3. ^ Madsen, Axel. Chanel: A Woman of Her Own. Macmillan, 1991. ISBN 0805016392. p. 4.
  4. ^ "Sarah Getrude Arkwright, #159285, b. 1885". The Peerage. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  5. ^ a b c Charles-Roux, Edmonde. Chanel: Her Life, Her World, and the Woman Behind the Legend She Herself Created, New York : Alfred A. Knopf, distributed by Random House, 1975. ISBN 0-394-47613-1, pp. 249, 250, 256, 323, 331-43, 355, 359.
  6. ^ Chanel and the Nazis: what Coco Avant Chanel and other films don't tell you The Times. 4 April 2009
  7. ^ Thurman, Judith (2009-01-07). "Thurman, Judith. "Scenes from a Marriage, the House of Chanel at the Met." ''The New Yorker'', May 23, 2005". Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  8. ^ "SS agent Hans Sommer interrogation 10 December 1946". National Archives and Records Administration RG 59, 250/38/13/6, Box 6749, Decimal File 862.20252. p. 25. 
  9. ^ Dr Larif M Shihaan. "Chanel Cuff Bracelet-Gabrielle Coco Chanel-Fine Jewelry-Reference Database". Internet Stones.COM. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  10. ^ "Coco Chanel Biography". Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  11. ^ "Coco Chanel" telepic boasts pleasing aroma, Reuters, 11 September 2008.
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky". Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  13. ^ ""2009: The Year of Coco Chanel" 21 February 2010". Retrieved 2010-02-22. 

Further reading

  • Charles-Roux, Edmonde (2005). The world of Coco Chanel: friends, fashion, fame. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 383 pages. ISBN 978-0-500-51216-6. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (1883-08-191971-01-10) was a pioneering French fashion designer whose modernist philosophy, menswear-inspired fashions and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her arguably the most important figure in the history of 20th-century fashion.


  • A fashion that does not reach the streets is not a fashion.
  • A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
  • A style does not go out of style as long as it adapts itself to its period. When there is an incompatibility between the style and a certain state of mind, it is never the style that triumphs.
  • A woman has the age she deserves.
  • A woman is closest to being naked when she is well dressed.
  • As long as you know men are like children, you know everything.
  • Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.
  • Dress sharply and they'll remember the outfit; dress impeccably and they'll remember the woman.
  • Elegance does not consist in putting on a new dress.
  • Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future.
  • Elegance is refusal.
  • Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.
  • Fashion is made to become unfashionable.
  • Fashion is not simply a matter of clothes. Fashion is in the air, born upon the wind. One intuits it. It is in the sky and on the road.
  • Fashion passes, style remains.
  • Great loves too must be endured.
  • Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.
  • How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.
  • I don't know why women want any of the things men have when one of the things that women have is men.
  • I don't understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little - if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that's the day she has a date with destiny. And it's best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.
  • I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite, which I would like.
  • 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.
  • I love myself.
  • I was the one who changed, it wasn't fashion. I was the one who was in fashion.
  • If a man talks bad about all women, it usually means he was burned by one woman.
  • In fashion, you know you have succeeded when there is an element of upset.
  • In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.
  • Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics.
  • It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.
  • I've never done anything by halves.
  • Jump out the window if you are the object of passion. Flee it if you feel it. Passion goes, boredom remains.
  • Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.
  • Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.
  • Material things aside, we need no advice but approval.
  • May my legend prosper and thrive. I wish it a long and happy life.
  • My friends, there are no friends.
  • My reason for choosing diamonds is that, dense as they are, they represent the greatest worth in the smallest volume.
  • Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.
  • Scheherezade is easy; a little black dress is difficult.
  • Since everything is in our heads, we had better not lose them.
  • Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.
  • Success is often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.
  • The best color in the whole world, is the one that looks good, on you.
  • The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.
  • There are a lot of duchesses, but only one Coco Chanel.
    • On commenting as to why she did not marry the Duke of Westminster
  • There are people who have money and people who are rich.
  • There goes a woman who knows all the things that can be taught and none of the things that cannot be taught.
  • There is time for work, and time for love. That leaves no other time.
  • Those who create are rare; those who cannot are numerous. Therefore, the latter are stronger.
  • To achieve great things, we must first dream.
  • When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.
  • When I can no longer create anything, I'll be done for.
  • When you give women back their mystery, you give them back their youth.
  • Why am I so determined to put the shoulder where it belongs? Women have very round shoulders that push forward slightly; this touches me and I say: 'One must not hide that!' Then someone tells you: 'The shoulder is on the back'. I have never seen women with shoulders on their backs.
  • Youth is something very new: twenty years ago no one mentioned it.
  • Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

File:Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster und Coco
Duke of Westminster with Coco Chanel

[[File:|thumb|220px|right|Illustrating the influence: a modern 'little black dress' by Cynthia Rowley, New York 2007; model is Nataliya Gotsiy.]] Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971)[1] was French fashion designer. She was a founder of the House of Chanel. She was a leader of women's fashion in the 20th century. She was the only fashion designer to be named on TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century.[2]

In her youth she had been a seamstress (sewed clothes) and a night-club singer.[3] After opening boutiques in Paris and Deauville, Coco eventually became a licenced couturiere (dress designer & maker) in 1919.


Fashion triumphs

Her styles were simple, practical, and expensive. They included beautifully-made suits for women, and classic dresses. Her 'litttle black dresses' from the 1920s were famous, and are still copied today. She also designed accessories, such as a handbag with a shoulder strap that left the wearer's hands free.

A short-list of triumphs which are taken for granted today:

  • The little black dress
  • Chanel No.5, the most famous female perfume in the world.
  • The suit for women: knee-long skirt and box jacket worn with pearl necklaces
  • The Tweed suit for women
  • The jersey dress with the chain belt
  • The cashmere cardigan
  • Shoes, such as the beige slingback with black toecap
  • Costume jewellry (various)
  • Make-up and skin care products
  • Above all, the 'total look': integration of the various elements of a woman's outfit.

Personal life

She was the mistress of a number of rich men, and reputedly turned down marriage to the Duke of Westminster. When asked why she did not marry him, she said: "There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel".[4] She never married.

Coco lived at the Hotel Ritz, Paris, for over thirty years. She was there during World War II, when the Germans occupied Paris, and her shops were closed. Her affair with a Nazi officer put her in an awkward position after the war, when she was accused of being a collaborator. Apparently, the British Royal Family intervened to get her released.[3] She promptly moved to Switzerland, and gave up fashion. Coco did return to Paris and the fashion world, in 1954. The French ignored her, but she was still a star to the Americans and British, who bought steadily almost everything she designed. Her fame rests not just on her dress sales, but on the many design styles which influenced other designers, and were copied by many of them.


Her life has proved fascinating to theatre, film and television:

  • 1969 Broadway musical: Coco
  • 1981 film: Chanel Solitaire
  • 2002 novel: Coco & Igor
  • 2008 book for children: Different like Coco
  • 2008 tv film Coco Chanel
  • 2009 film Coco before Coco
  • 2009 film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky


The House of Chanel is still in business, and still a member of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, the top fashion clique in Paris. They do modern versions of many of Coco's best ideas.


  1. "Madamoiselle Chanel: The Perennially Fashionable". Chanel. Retrieved 2006-10-13. 
  2. Ingrid Sischy (1998-06-08). "Coco Chanel". TIME 100 - The Most Important People of the Century. TIME. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Charles-Roux, Edmonde. 1975. Chanel: her life, her world, and the woman behind the legend she herself created. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, distributed by Random House. ISBN 0-394-47613-1,
  4. "Coco Chanel Biography". Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  • Charles-Roux, Edmonde 2005. The World of Coco Chanel: friends, fashion, fame. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-51216-6.

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