Chanel was founded in 1910 by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who was born in 1883 in Saumur, France. Her father left her in a nun’s orphanage when her mother died, where she learned how to sew. When she became an adult she started working as a saleswoman in a lingerie store and at the same time she was working as a showgirl at a café-concert. That was the moment when she adopted her famous nickname: Coco. This name comes from a song she sang called Qui qu’a vu Coco?, that was about a lost dog named Coco.
In 1910 she created the brand and in 1918 opened her first shop at Rue Cambon 31, Paris. Firstly it was a hat shop, but then it became her fashion boutique. Furthermore it was where she lives. Nowadays is the current Karl Lagerfeld’s office, creative director of the maison since 1983.
She was a rebel and a visionary and in 1920 she was considered the image of the new woman: independent, sociable and individualist. She broke with the Belle Époque elegance and during the First World War established a new one based on functionality, comfort and simplicity, demanding the equality and freedom of women. This way she removed from fashion the use of corsets and hobble skirts and introduced a new garment and habit for womenswear: the use of trousers, being she the first woman to use them. Besides, she made popular sunbathing, a practice that was considered of commoners, and short hair. However, that wasn’t the only thing she cut, also the length of the skirts revealing the ankle. She boost, putting herself as an example, the small and slim body almost without breast following the garçonne style.
However, her love for the masculine style didn’t stop there. She looked for inspiration in the closet of her male lovers. This way she popularized the canotier hat (made of straw, with a short, flat and rigid brim and usually with a color ribbon), tweed sweaters and jackets without lapels and black and white for womenswear when black was only used by men and widows. One of her creations -she created the concept, too- was the Little Black Dress and the firts one was made of crepé, silk and long sleeves. Moreover, she introduced the knitwear in haute couture. For example one of his most famous designs was the charming chemise dress, a garment in between a dress and a shirt without waist and adornments that enhanced the bust and required to wear pearls.
As it was said before, she made popular the tweed female suit with jewelry and in 1925 launched a suit composed by a matching skirt and jacket without lapels and trimmed; both of them accompanied by a low heel beige shoe with round black toe in order to lengthen the leg and shorten the foot. They were the favorites of the expensive womenswear. Furthermore, she boosts pleated skirts and shirts with sailor stripes.
As accessories is concerned, there are two basics in the maison: pearls and the bags. One of mademoiselle Coco’s innovations was to strand the pearl necklace. Furthermore, Chanel partnered with Duke Fulco di Verdura and created a Chanel jewelry line. An iconic piece is the white enameled cuff with a jeweled Maltesse cross.
In 1955 Chanel offered a handbag with a thin shoulder strap made of chain in order to free the hands. The chain was inspired by her orphanage days, where the caretakers wore Chatelaines (belt hook to household keys, scissors, etc…) whilst the burgundy lining in the orphanage uniform. Due to her love of the sporting world decided to make a quilted exterior in honor to the jackets worn by jockeys. In 1980’s Karl Lagerfeld updated the classic version of the flap bag and redesigned the lock to incorporate the maison’s logo. In 2005, the brand released and exact replica to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its creation.
We can’t forget to mention one of the most iconic products of the brand, the Chanel nº.5, created by Ernest Beaux in 1921. The fragrance was innovative for her time and the recipient, too. It was called like that because it was the fifth sample the one that Ernest Beaux and Coco liked. Some of the faces to promote the perfume have been Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Tautou, Nicole Kidman and recently Michelle Bundchen (click in the names to see the advertise). The only male face to promote the perfume has been Brad Pitt.
Since 1983 Chanel is run by Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of the Haute Couture line and of the prêt-à-porter design. He has reinterpreted the language and has made a mixture between the past and the present. The maison, now, doesn’t want to have a bourgeois image, so it has associated the pearls, the chains and the camellias (a pattern inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Lady of the Camellias and the first time it appeared was in a black suit in 1933) to sportswear and juvenile trends. Karl said on an interview that of the things he does, there are some Coco would hate because his job is to actualize Chanel’s image and he has to find his identity.