Do you know who, next year, will turn 110? Chanel! In 1909 the famous Coco Chanel established her maison in Paris, creating one of the most iconic fashion brand in the world. This label has always been above every trends, thanks to the visionary designer that ruled it: the mythological Gabrielle Chanel and her successor, the incredible Karl Lagerfeld. Do you want to know a little bit more about Chanel’s history? Stay tuned!
From the beginning to World War I
Gabrielle Chanel’s experience as a designer started in 1909. With a difficult past behind her, after being raised in an orphanotrofy in Aubazine, where she learnt how to sew, Coco at 26 years old opened her first millinery shop in Boulevard Malesherbes, in Paris. Étienne Balsan, a man she met during her experience as a singer in a café chantant and that gave her the Coco nickname, gave her financial support. Thanks to him, she had the opportunity to meet élite clients and to meet, as well, the most important man in her life: Boy Capel.
In 1910, Capel helped her to open another millinery shop at 21 Rue Cambon, Chanel Modes, and supported her loaning her some money to open her first clothes store in Deauville. Thanks to this store, the rich women that lived in the French Riviera had the chance to dress à la Chanel, a true revolutionary style for that time: Coco’s style is androgynous, sporty, so different from the trends that, at that time, forced women into corsets and crinolines.
In 1914 World War I started and times became hard, even for Coco. But she was a businesswoman and she found a way to turn a disgrace into an opportunity. Her clothes, light and comfortable, were perfect for all the women who needed to work and to take care of the wounded soldiers. In 1916, she also had the opportunity to buy a lot of jersey, a fabric that was not very expensive, easy to sew and perfect on every body. The war ended in 1918 and Chanel was already a legend: her Paris atelier has moved to the iconic address of 31 Rue Cambon and Harper’s Bazaar Usa said that her name “was on every buyer’s lips”. Fame and success collided with two personal tragedies: in 1919 Boy Capel dies in a car accident, while one year later she even lost her sister Antoinette for Spanish flu.
Twenties: the very first Chanel’s icons
Maybe it’s for these great losses that Mademoiselle Chanel began working very very hard, complitely focusing on her maison. Twenties are so successful for Coco, she actually began this decade launching an iconic product: Chanel N°5 fragrance. Created by perfumer Ernest Beaux, it was one of the very first fragrance composed of synthetic molecules and it became, in a very short time, one of the most beloved scent for her rich clients. Thanks to Chanel N°5, Coco she met Pierre Wertheimer, with whom in 1924 she founded Les Parfumeries Bourjois company, that will create many other iconic fragrances like N°22, Gardénia and N° 19.
In these years, another Chanel’s icon is brought to life: in 1926 the little black dress conquered Vogue America. Her free and nonconformist style, that reinterpreted the masculine fashion with her essential femininity, won the heart of every emancipated woman of XX century.
Thirties and Forties: from the success to the exile
In the Thirties, Coco Chanel was a fashion legend. In these years she also created a fine jewellery collection, the perfect accessory for her luxurious and precious dresses. But she never quitted creating bijoux, that she always used to decorate her minimalistic but elegant outfits.
If World War I was an opportunity for Coco, the second was the reason of her decline. When the German occupation started in 1940, she closed her Paris boutique and she resided at Hotel Ritz with her lover, the nazi spy Hans Günther von Dincklage. During the war, it seems she helped the German government to persuade Winston Churchill to consider a separate peace to be negotiated by the SS. That was the cause of her detention, that brought her to be considered as a traitor of her country for many years. In 1945, she decided to exile herself in Switzerland.
From the Fifties to the Seventies: Coco’s great comeback
After 8 years, Coco Chanel decided to make her comeback in the fashion industry. In 1953, she styled for Marie-Hélène de Rotschild a gown made by a taffeta curtain, after saying that the dress she bought was horrible. One year later, she understood it was the right time to re-enter the fashion world, thanks to the financial backing of Jacques Wertheimer. Actually, she decided to comeback also because she didn’t understand how Christian Dior‘s New Look, that was so Belle Epoque, could have such a great success.
Coco Chanel made her come back, at 71, with a collection that was called N°5: these 30 outfits, thanks to Vogue America, became a success. Coco was living another creative youth and in these years she created many other icons: for example, the Chanel suit in tweed and bouclé wool in 1954, the Chanel 2.55 one year later, bicolor slingbacks in 1957. Chanel returned to be a brand beloved by the élite and worn by style icons like Romy Schneider and Jackie Kennedy. Until 1971, when Coco died at 87.
From the Eighties to 2000s: Karl Lagerfeld’s kingdom
After Coco’s death, Chanel was a brand well known for its perfumes, but not so much for its fashion. It had to wait until 1983, when Alain Wertheimer, Jacques’ son, persuaded Karl Lagerfeld, that brought to success Chloé, to lead Chanel. That was the very beginning of a fashion alliance that is still going on strong.
Lagerfeld dipped himself in the maison’s archive, bringing back to life cult pieces and mixing them to the opulent and open-minded style of that time: the tweed’s suit is enriched by leather details, maxi golden and pearls necklaces are the accessories to wore in every occasion, the double C logo is the cult detail on bags, like the Chanel Classic bag, and even swimsuits and towels. Chanel turned into an iconic brand also for its innovative imagery: do you remember the iconic TV advertising with Vanessa Paradis in a bird cage? How could we ever forget, as well, the amazing advertising campaigns shot by Karl Lagerfeld himself (who became the official photographer of the maison in 1987) with Nineties supermodels like Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford?
In the years 2000, Chanel began to write another chapter of its faboulous life: the Métiers d’art fashion shows. The very best of Chanel’s craftmanship ateliers, bought by the company throughout the years, is unveiled in these special collections, that are even more refined than haute couture ones. These fashion shows are great events that takes Chanel every year in a different city of the world, from Dallas to Salzburg, Rome and Hamburg. Chanel, in 2016, was also the very first brand to stage a Cruise collection fashion show in Cuba!
Chanel in 2018
How could we define Chanel in 2018? Asm a maison that kept on talking to contemporary women and to dress them, mixing a luxury attitude to an innovative aesthetic. Coco Chanel’s teaching couldn’t be more well represented, do you agree? Today Chanel is a 5 billion euros empire, that have successful businesses in cosmethics, clothes and accessories. If the suit and the little black dress are icons that can be still reinterpreted, now Chanel is a brand that can forecast trends, unveiling before anyone else pvc boots, luxury sneakers, denim and multicolour dresses. Its icons right now? The it girsl of the moment, like Cara Delevingne, Kendall Jenner, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kaia Gerber and Lily-Rose Depp.
Do you want to know who is a very Chanel addicted? Our queen Chiara Ferragni! Chanel accessories are her obsession, especially Chanel vintage bags that she found everywhere, from flea markets to marketplaces like Depop. Her latest addicitions? The Chanel heart-shaped vintage bag and the belt bag, that she wore for the latest Fedez show in San Siro!
Chanel today is a brand that knows how to speak with younger generations through the media they prefer, for example Instagram. If you want to be updated to Chanel’s latest news start following @chanelofficial account and @chanel.beauty makeup profile. If you’re obsessed with Chanel’s heritage, go straight to @chanel_archives. and start following. Is your walk in closet full of Chanel’s memorabilias? Then @chanel_worldwide is the place for you to share all the pictures of your Chanel collection!
Did you enjoy our lesson about Chanel? If you want to take another bite, don’t miss our gallery with all the best looks of the maison!