Coco Chanel is a fashion designer known for her signature suits, timeless designs, and little black dresses. She debuted her first perfume in the 1920s and created the little black dress and the Chanel suit to design clothing that was more comfortable for women. She rose to fame as a style icon recognized for her basic yet elegant dresses matched with magnificent accessories like multiple strands of pearls.
Coco Chanel’s designs are still popular today because of their ageless appeal. Let’s look at what made her one of the most glamorous women of all time.
Coco Chanel’s Legacy
Coco Chanel was a courageous, powerful, and independent woman, so it’s no shock that other women have looked to her designs for elegance and confidence. Coco Chanel’s impact is best summed up in her own words: “A girl should be two things: who she is and what she wants.”
Chanel intended women to feel as if they were dressing up for themselves and no one else when they wore her designs, which is one of the reasons why her accessories and apparel have remained so popular throughout the years.
Chanel clothing and handbags have long been in the spotlight, from Hollywood’s Golden Age movie starlets to gorgeous First Ladies and princesses.
Marlene Dietrich famously sported an androgynous trouser suit made by Coco Chanel in the 1930s, and Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, and Jane Fonda were all photographed wearing Chanel designs. Marilyn Monroe went so far as to say in an interview that all she wore to bed was a few droplets of Chanel No. 5, thrusting Chanel perfume to new heights of popularity.
Princess Diana was often spotted wearing sleek Chanel skirts with a classic Chanel quilted bag on her numerous visits to hospitals and charities. At the same time, activist and actress Emma Watson has been seen adorning her off-duty attire with a Chanel shoulder bag. After her husband, JFK, was assassinated, Jackie Kennedy’s pink Chanel suit became a symbol of bravery in the face of grief, as she persisted in wearing it for photographs.
Coco Chanel’s goal with her creations was to empower women by giving them the confidence to be who they wanted to be. Her legendary brand and timeless jewelry, apparel, and handbags, continue to carry on her legacy today.
Chanel’s Fashion Empire
Chanel met Etienne Balsan when she was 20 years old, and he promised to help her establish a millinery business in Paris. She quickly left him for Arthur “Boy” Capel, one of his richer buddies. Both men were pivotal in Chanel’s early foray into the fashion world.
Chanel began selling hats in her first boutique on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910. She went on to open stores in Biarritz and Deauville and start her clothing line.
On a chilly day, she fashioned a dress out of an old jersey, which proved to be her earliest taste of clothing success. She volunteered to sew a dress for everybody who inquired where she got it after many people asked. She once revealed to author Paul Morand that her riches were founded on an old jersey she wore in Deauville because it was cold.
Chanel became a well-known personality in the creative and literary spheres of Paris. She collaborated on the costumes for Jean Cocteau’s play Orphée and the Ballets Russes, and she was friends with both Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau.
Chanel No. 5
Chanel grew her thriving business to unprecedented heights in the 1920s. Chanel No. 5 was her debut perfume, and it was the first to include a designer’s name. According to Chanel, scent is the unmistakable, unnoticed, ultimate fashion accessory that announces your arrival and lengthens your departure.
Businessmen Paul and Pierre Wertheimer and department store owner Théophile Bader funded the fragrance, with Chanel forging a strong bond with Pierre.
In the end, a contract was reached in which the Wertheimer company would receive 70% of Chanel No. 5 revenues in exchange for creating the perfume in their facilities, with Bader receiving 20% and Chanel receiving only 10%. She regularly fought to have the terms of the arrangement renegotiated throughout the years, with No. 5 being a huge source of revenue.
The Chanel 2.55 Bag That Revolutionized Fashion
The original Chanel bags were produced in 1929, but in 1955, they were re-imagined. Coco Chanel added a functional longer strap to the second incarnation, the Chanel 2.55 bag, so that the purse could be slung on the shoulder, leaving the hands free. These purses made it socially acceptable for women of high social rank to carry bags on their shoulders for the first time, and they earned a spot in handbag history.
The Chanel 2.55 bag paved the way for other designers to use shoulder straps on their bags, and it can be seen in following Chanel lines like the Chanel 31 Bag and the Chanel Boy Bag.
A Feminist Icon Ahead of Her Time
Chanel was a fiery feminist who believed that women should express themselves via their attire. This was in total contrast to many of her predecessors, who were more concerned with modesty and the belief that women should always appear feminine.
She despised skirts that entirely concealed women’s bodies and brushed the floor and corsets that made a woman’s waist appear unnaturally small. Her outfits and bags have an androgynous quality as if she wanted women to believe they could accomplish anything males could.
The 2.55 Chanel handbag’s quilted leather was claimed to be inspired by stablehands’ coats of the time, and the leather strap and chain give it a harsher edge. The fact that women could hold the bags on their shoulders made them appear considerably more macho at the time.
Iconic Designs: Chanel Suit & Little Black Dress
Chanel introduced the now-iconic Chanel suit in 1925, including a collarless jacket and a well-fitted skirt. Her designs were groundbreaking at the time, incorporating features of men’s clothing and prioritizing comfort over the limits of mainstream trends. She encouraged women to bid their goodbyes to corsets and other constraining items.
Chanel’s little black dress was another groundbreaking design from the 1920s. She used a color that was historically linked with sadness and showed how fashionable it could be for evening attire.