Who was … Coco Chanel

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In our Who Was series, Women UK take a fleeting look into the life of Coco Chanel …

Gabrielle Bonheur – otherwise known as Coco Chanel was born in August 1883. As a leading French modernist designer, whose patterns of simplicity and style revolutionised women’s clothing. She was the only designer to be listed in the Time 100 most influential people of the Twentieth Century.

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.

Coco chanel
It was in the 1920s, that Coco Chanel left a lasting mark on Women’s fashion and design. Up until the First World War, women’s clothing had been quite restrictive and tended to involve full length skirts which were impractical for many activities. Coco Chanel helped create women’s clothing that was simpler and more practical. She also introduced trousers and suits for women – something which had not been done before.
Famously known for her creation of Chanel No.5 scent and this has been a lasting trademark right up to today as one of the bestselling perfumes globally.
Orphaned from an early age, she worked with her sister in a milliner in Deauville. Later, she opened a shop in 1912 and after a spell of nursing during the First World War founded a couture house in the Rue Cambon in Paris. It was in the post war period that she felt the need for a revolution in women’s clothes. She began by liberating women from the bondage of the corset and encouraged a casual but elegant range of clothes. With a black sweater and 10 rows of pearls Chanel revolutionized fashion as we know it.
Significant items of clothing Coco Chanel helped pioneer included:
  • the collarless cardigan jacket
  • the bias cut dress – labelled a Ford by one critic because everyone had one.
  • The shoe string shoulder strap.
  • The floating evening scarf
  • The wearing together of junk and real jewels
I wonder how many of us still have these items in our wardrobe?
During the Second World War and the German occupation of Paris, Chanel was involved in a romantic liaison with a German officer. Chanel’s wartime record has been placed under much scrutiny and she was held for questioning after the war. Some sources suggest that Winston Churchill directly intervened to enable Chanel to be released.
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