Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, also known as Coco Chanel is one of the most influential people in fashion history. While growing up through hard times and running a business during World War I and World War II, the many obstacles that Chanel faced never stopped her from becoming a prevalent force in fashion. With her signature pieces such as the “Chanel suit,” the “little black dress,” and Chanel No. 5 perfume, Chanel has turned her brand into a legacy that is still viewed today as one that no one can compare to.
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur France to Eugenie Devolle and Albert Chanel. At the age of twelve Chanel’s mother died and she was then sent to an orphanage by her father to be raised. At this orphanage is where Chanel learned how to sew, which not knowing then, would be one of her greatest attributes in life. As Chanel reached her later teen years she then aspired to become a singer, but her performances in cabernets and venues did not go far career wise and only captured her the Coco nickname that she is widely known for.
After an unsuccessful singing career, Chanel then became involved with two wealthy men that helped her open her first shops and gave her ideas and inspiration towards her designs. Chanel’s first shop was located on Paris’s Rue Cambon and catered towards hat designs. Her next shops were located in Deauville and Biarritz and centered towards clothing. Chanel made signature pieces in her shops using jersey fabrics which other clothing labels weren’t using at the time. After the success of her shops, Chanel then produced the Chanel No. 5 perfume, which is still a popular fragrance to this day.
Chanel’s next legendary piece that she introduced was the “Chanel suit.” This piece steered away from the corsets that women post World War I were wearing and featured a collarless jacket and fitted skirt. Her next popular piece was the “little black dress.” With these pieces, Chanel was able to transform the wardrobe and lives of women after the war and created chic garments that women loved and craved for.
Chanel’s first business obstacle occurred at the start of World War II when she closed her shops. She then developed a romance with a German officer that, after the war, created a negative impact on her image and brand. Fifteen years later Chanel opened her shops and competed against new male designers, one of them being Christian Dior. At the time of opening, Chanel was now 70 and faced new obstacles. Metmuseum.org states, “The designer faced challenges in this endeavor: securing finances, assembling a new staff, seeking out new fabrics, competing at age seventy against a new generation of designers (Krick).” Chanel was able to gain new respect and loyalty from shoppers with her reinvented feministic designs. After successfully implementing new collections, “Chanel reintroduced her handbags, jewelry, and shoes successfully.”
On January 10, 1971, Chanel died at the age of 87 in her hotel room. With other designers making pieces for her brand, the famed Karl Lagerfeld took over and continued the Chanel legacy. To this day Chanel’s brand is a multi million-dollar company that is competed heavily against other top luxury brands in the fashion industry. Chanel’s heritage and innovative designs are what makes the Chanel brand a strong company.
Chanel is one of the most influential and innovative persons in the fashion industry. She is considered this because of her transformation of women’s fashion in a time period that was dominated by males. Chanel used new fabrics and modern designs that others weren’t using and couldn’t equate to. She revolutionized the look of the woman post World War I and II and this look is one that is still used today. Chanel endured a lot in her lifetime but it never stopped her from taking the next step with her business and designs. Growing up out of poverty with no strong family foundation, Chanel’s encounters with wealthy men helped shape her business and the designs in it. Chanel was an entrepreneur that was not afraid to take risks or stand on her own beliefs. She introduced garments that weren’t the social norm and was able to gain acceptance through all of her circumstances.
Chanel is not only an innovator but also an icon. She has been honored with the Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion by Neiman Marcus and listed on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Many designers have been inspired by her brand and story such as Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Chanel’s signature pieces such as the little black dress and the Chanel suit are still worn and bought today. Metmuseum.org quotes, “The Chanel suit has become a status symbol for a new generation.” With the help of Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel brand is one that is still looked up to with great esteem and highly sought after by consumers. Without Chanel’s designs, the shift for female fashion in the 1900s wouldn’t have been as powerful as it was. Today, Chanel is and will forever be remembered.
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