Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, known as Coco Chanel, was born on 19th of August 1883, in Saumur, France. Her early years were anything but glamorous. When Gabrielle was six, her mother died and soon after that Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life’s work. When she turned 18, she left the orphanage and took up work for a local tailor.
Chanel had a brief career as a singer performing in clubs in Vichy and Moulins from where she got her nickname “Coco’’. Opening her first shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel started out selling not clothes as most people would assume, but hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes.
In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. An interesting fact is that nowadays someone, somewhere, buys a bottle of Chanel No.5 every 30 seconds.
Another 1920s revolutionary design was Chanel’s little black dress. She took a colour once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for evening wear. In 1925, she introduced the now legendary Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. Her designs were revolutionary for the time—borrowing elements of men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of then-popular fashions.
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 a luxury.”
Another interesting fact about Coco Chanel is that she made the sun tan fashionable. At a time when sunbathing was not at all fashionable, Coco brought it into vogue, completely by accident. She got sunburned during a cruise holiday and when she returned to Cannes in France, the public immediately followed the trend.
One of the key romance in Chanel’s life began in the 1920s when she met the wealthy duke of Westminster and the two started a decades-long relationship. In response to his marriage proposal, she reportedly said, “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel!”
There is a rather interesting legend about the Duke and Chanel. If you take a walk around the City of Westminster, you may notice something unusual about the lampposts that are found on every street. Painted in gold on a background of black, the unmistakeable shape of the Coco Chanel logo, can be found on every post. The Duke was reportedly infatuated with Chanel and the legend states that as a token of his affection, all the lampposts in Westminster were embossed with her CC logo in gold, alongside his W crest, for Westminster.
Coco Chanel died on January 10, 1971, at her apartment in the Hotel Ritz, where she lived for more than 30 years. She never married, having once said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.”
A little more than a decade after her death, designer Karl Lagerfeld took the reins at her company to continue the Chanel legacy. Today her namesake company is held privately by the Wertheimer family and continues to thrive.