People Who Kick Buts: Coco Chanel
The most courageous act is still to think for yourself ALOUD.
- Born on August 19, 1883 and passed away on January 10, 1971.
- She was the only fashion designer to appear on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Along with Paul Poiret, Chanel was credited with liberating women from the constraints of the “corseted silhouette” and popularizing the acceptance of a sportive, casual chic as the feminine standard in the post-World War I era.
A prolific fashion creator, Chanel’s influence extended beyond couture clothing. Her design aesthetic was realized in jewelry, handbags, and fragrance. Her signature scent, Chanel No. 5 became an iconic product, one irrevocably identified with The House of Chanel.
- A woman of French peasant stock, convent bred, Chanel adhered to one constant in her life—a determination to rise above her humble origins.
Her indefatigable energy and talent in her chosen trade combined ultimately to achieve both the business success and social prominence she had so striven to realize. Her professional life brought her in contact with the upper echelons of society and personages noteworthy in the arts. She herself became an art patron, supplying funds to support individual artists and their work.
- A contradictory personality, a highly competitive, driven opportunist, Chanel’s ambition led her to form misplaced alliances and enter into questionable associations.
Chanel’s personal affiliations, particularly during the World War II German occupation of France, have generated controversy around her reputation.
- Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born to an unwed mother, Eugénie “Jeanne” Devolle, a laundrywoman, in “the charity hospital run by the Sisters of Providence” in Saumur, France.
- Her father, Albert Chanel, was an itinerant street vendor who peddled work clothes and undergarments, living a nomadic life, traveling to and from market towns, while the family resided in rundown lodgings.
- Having learned the art of sewing during her six years at Aubazine, Chanel was able to find employment as a seamstress. When not plying her needle, she sang in a cabaret frequented by cavalry officers. Chanel made her stage debut singing at a café-concert, a popular entertainment venue of the era, this a Moulins pavilion, “La Rotonde.”
- The year 1906 found Chanel in the spa resort town of Vichy. Vichy boasted a profusion of concert halls, theatres and cafes where Chanel hoped to find success as a performer. Chanel’s youth and physical charms impressed those for whom she auditioned, but her singing voice was marginal and she failed to find stage work. Obliged to find employment, she took work at the “Grande Grille,” where as a donneuse d’eau, she was one of the females whose job it was to dispense glasses of the purportedly curative mineral water for which Vichy was renowned. When the Vichy season ended, Chanel returned to Moulins, and her former haunt “La Rotonde.” She now realized that a serious stage career was not in her future.
- It was at Moulins that Chanel met the young French ex-cavalry officer and wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan. At the age twenty-three, Chanel became Balsan’s mistress, supplanting the courtesan, Émilienne d’Alençon as his new favorite.
- In 1908 Chanel began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel. In later years Chanel reminisced of this time in her life: “…two gentlemen were outbidding for my hot little body.”
- Capel, a wealthy member of the English upper class, installed Chanel in an apartment in Paris and financed Chanel’s first shops. It is said that Capel’s own sartorial style influenced the conception of the Chanel look.
- In 1918 Chanel was able to acquire the entire building at 31 rue Cambon situated in one of the most fashionable districts of Paris.
- In early 1971 Chanel, then 87 years old, was tired and ailing but continued to adhere to her usual schedule, overseeing the preparation of the spring collection. She died on Sunday, January, 10th at the Hotel Ritz where she had resided for more than thirty years. She had gone for a long drive that afternoon and, not feeling well, had retired early to bed.
Her grave is located in the Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery, Lausanne, Switzerland.