16 Aug Happy Birthday Blog: Coco Chanel
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
Born: August 19, 1883
Saumur, Marie-et-Loire, France
Known For: Clothing designer and style icon
Today’s birthday blog is another opportunity for me to learn some new information about a woman and name our entire Western pop culture is familiar with. Coco Chanel was born in the Loire Valley and sent to an orphanage at 12 following the death of her mother. There she learned to sew, but forced to leave at 18, she became a seamstress and cabaret singer.
A series of jobs would lead her toward her career as one of the most influential fashion designers in the world. Much of her early success was paved by and paid for men who were her lovers, including the funds to set up her first milliner and first fashion shop. She opened her first shop in Paris in 1913 and started by designing casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport. One of Chanel’s first revolutionary changes to fashion was using the jersey fabric for women’s clothing, which had previously only been used in men’s underwear. This fabric stretchy fabric fit the fashion trends of the 1920s but also allowed for the elimination of the “corseted silhouette” which had been a staple of women’s fashion for centuries.
Chanel gained much from her high-profile connections, especially through European royalty. She met movie executive Samuel Goldwyn in 1931 and contracted to design costumes for MGM. She becomes a controversial figure with regard to her reaction to World War II and her relationship with Nazi officers and the German occupation of France. She was decidedly anti-Jewish and pro-German, and it is even hinted and rumored that she could have been a Nazi agent.
Chanel closed her fashion house for 15 years after the war, but reopened in 1954 and quickly regained her international standing. There are several fashion trends we can thank Chanel for – the aforementioned jersey fabric, the Chanel suit, the little black dress, and the Chanel bag (not that I’d ever be able to afford one).
For changing women’s fashion, we salute Coco and wish her a happy birthday!