History has not forgotten the famous dressmaker, who passed away in her all-white room at the Ritz Paris on January 10, 1971. Fifty years after her death, the style she created seems more current than ever, and the twists and turns of his private life still inspire writers and filmmakers. Zoom on an icon.
Nothing predisposes little Gabrielle Chanel to the upper echelons of society. Born August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France, this merchant’s daughter was placed in the orphanage at the age of 12, after the death of her mother. Of this father whom she knew little, but whom she likes to describe as an adventurer who went to seek his fortune in America, the young girl only keeps one affectionate nickname: Coco.
An austere adolescence spent under the aegis of the nuns helps to forge her singular personality. Unconventional, rebellious, endowed with an unwavering will, the 18-year-old Gabrielle who learns the trade of seamstress from her aunt is already thinking big.
After making and wearing her own creations for a few years, the seamstress borrows money from a friend to open a milliner salon in Paris; Chanel Modes now has a storefront at 31, rue Cambon. The Tout-Paris soon snapped up its creations, both simple and sophisticated. Coco improvises as a stylist and opens boutiques in Deauville and Biarritz, where wealthy vacationers run to stock up on clothes with a timeless look.
In 1918, she employed 300 workers who enabled her to do the job … and repay her loan. Launch of an iconic perfume, creation of a jewelry workshop … The one we now call Coco is ready to conquer the fashion industry.
In the interwar period, Coco Chanel broadened her horizons. Her friendship with the pianist Misia Sert leads her to rub shoulders with the gratin of the artistic colony and she financially supports the composer Igor Stravinsky and the choreographer Serge Diaghilev. His privileged relations with certain political leaders, including Winston Churchill, proved to be a double-edged sword during the Second World War.
The seamstress, revolted by the occupation of Paris by German troops, closed her fashion house in 1940. From 1941 to 1944, she lived in a suite at the Ritz with her lover, Hans Günther von Dincklage, Nazi agent and spy for the account Germans. Historical documents show that Chanel worked as a spy, even trying to organize a truce between Germany and the United Kingdom.
At the end of the war, she got off lightly by avoiding a trial, but still chose to go into exile in Switzerland. It is whispered that Churchill would have intervened on his behalf …
Gabrielle was 71 when she returned from exile in 1954. There was no question, however, of retiring: her long absence precipitated a return to the corset that she already dreams of stopping.
To the fitted silhouettes of Christian Dior’s New Look, she contrasts her famous tweed suit. “I’m not fashionable, since fashion is me!” she says when accused of not giving in to trends.
True to herself, the seamstress will be until the very end. Discouraged by the changes that are shaking up society, she takes refuge in work and is more demanding than ever of her employees.
On January 10, 1971, she died alone at the age of 87, in a monastic room with impeccable taste.
After meeting Gabrielle in a bistro while serving as an officer, this extremely wealthy rider introduces her to good Parisian society … and introduces her to the one who will become her great love.
Love at first sight is immediate between the businessman and the seamstress. Their relationship, which resists the man’s marriage to an English aristocrat, tragically ends when Capel dies in a car accident.
Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia
Coco incorporates a Russian touch into her creations in contact with this Grand Duke, with whom she began an affair in 1920. It is also thanks to him that she met Ernest Beaux, former perfumer of the Tsar’s court and future creator of Chanel No 5.
Both mistress and patron of the Russian composer, Coco consoled herself for the death of Capel in her company. She even pushes the audacity to accommodate her lover, with wife and children, in his country house.
This British aristocrat, Duke of Westminster, fell in love with Gabrielle in the mid-1920s. Their love affair lasted five years. It is said that he sent her chests full of jewels and precious stones …
A talented decorator and illustrator, this precursor of the Art Deco movement was about to marry Coco when he suffered a fatal embolism on September 21, 1935. It was too much for the seamstress, who knew no other meaningful love story.
From her beginnings in the fashion industry, Coco Chanel imposed a style of her own. She designs practical and comfortable clothes and frees women from cinched waists and corsets. Skirts shorten and bulky fabrics are discarded. Like her time, the Chanel woman is always on the move.
In 1917, Coco was inspired by the marine style to design a collection that appealed to the upper middle class.
The 2.55 bag
Created in February 1955, hence its name, it adapts to all outfits and can be worn on the shoulder, in the hand or across the body.
The Chanel No5 perfume
It is thanks to this exquisite juice, launched in 1921, that Chanel transforms her fashion house into an empire.
The little black dress
Formerly reserved for periods of mourning, it became essential when Chanel included it in its collections.
The tweed suit
Classic and perfectly cut, it was inspired by his expeditions to Scotland with the Duke of Westminster.
“Take my ideas, I will have others …”
“The perfume announces the arrival of a woman and prolongs her departure.”
“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
“To be irreplaceable, you have to try to be different.”
“I only drink champagne on two occasions: when I’m in love, and when I’m not.”
Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my email@example.com 1-800-268-7116