The Incredible History Behind Coco Chanel’s Fashion Empire
The story behind Coco Chanel and her iconic brand is a true rags to riches story. Coco Chanel, at the time known as Gabriel Chanel, was born into a working-class family. At the age of 12, her mother passed away suddenly and while her father also left the family. She was soon put into an orphanage. She was not dealt the best cards in life from a very early stage. This of course did not take away her determined and ambitious personality that would take her very far in life.
The only family she remained in contact with was her Aunt Adrienne, whom Coco Chanel would spend her summers with. She already knew how to sew, but her aunt taught her how to sew creatively and turn plain items into extraordinary ones. She was a talented individual when it came to a sewing needle which would come apparent to anyone who laid eyes on her work.
At the age of 18, she was given the option to either stay at the orphanage as a nun or leave. Chanel was not one to settle, so she left to find a life for herself outside of the orphanage. Quickly, she was offered a job as a seamstress. Although this was a great job for someone her age, Coco Chanel didn’t see herself doing this for the rest of her life.
Eventually, Chanel found herself wanting to start preforming in local music halls, and so she did. This is where she got her iconic name “coco” that we all know today. This name came from the song she sang at the music hall, “Qui Qu’a Vu Coco?” Eventually, this is the name that everyone knew her by.
Preforming in the music hall is where she caught the eye of Étienne Balsan. He was a millionaire who was a bit of a playboy, but Chanel saw him as her way out of poverty. After becoming Balsan’s mistress, she was able to quit her job as a seamstress and lived a much more lavish life socializing with some of the wealthiest people in France while also making very important connections.
Eventually Coco became not only Balsan’s mistress, but Arthur “Boy” Capel’s Mistress as well. Boy Capel was one to recognize Chanel’s business ambitions and Coco felt Capel was someone who could truly make her dreams become a reality. Chanel eventually left Balsan For Boy Capel, but she did not cut ties with Balsan completely. Eventually, the two men came to an agreement to fund coco’s first business endeavor, a hat shop. This would be the beginning of people recognizing Coco’s amazing talent as a designer and creator.
At the time, men were the people producing clothing and fashion for women. The clothes that were being made for women were uncomfortable and impractical. Chanel recognized this, she decided to be the solution to this problem. Her simple and practical style is what really caught people’s attention.
Eventually, Boy Capel funded the opening of another Chanel store all on his own. This time it was more than just hats, it was the first couture clothing line made for women exclusively by a woman. She stuck to her simple and practical style that people loved, and after connecting with the right people through Boy Capel, she solidified her reputation in the fashion industry.
Practical, comfortable, yet stylish was Coco Chanel’s brand. This was especially needed during World War I when men in France had to go to war and women had to take over their jobs. The clothing women were wearing at the time was not only impractical but it was very dangerous to wear in the factories where a lot of the women were working. Chanel took this as an opportunity to make a new everyday wear line for the working women of France and naturally, they fell in love.
After the war ended and later after the passing of Boy Capel in a car crash, Chanel continued to defy odds and became more and more successful. Her first daring move was when she created her first perfume. This is when Chanel No 5 was born. One of the most iconic perfumes we all know today and the most expensive perfume in the world at the time. She also proceeded to create her signature black dress and became one of the first people to put women into stylish trousers.
Coco Chanel was living a lavish life of success, but sure enough things did not stay great. In June 1940, the Nazis bombed Paris and within days France surrendered to German control. The Nazis took over and occupied North West France. Although most of Paris was swarming with Nazis, Coco stayed in the Ritz hotel where Nazi officers also stayed. She quickly found herself romantically involved with a German office/Nazi Spy, Hans Gunther von Dincklage
Hans and other German officers thought that Coco could be used in a Nazi plot to try and end the war with Britain on terms favorable to the Nazis. The Germans knew of Chanel’s connections with the people of Brittan, including Winston Churchill whom she would try to meet up for the Germans. Her attempt was failed, but now she was on record as someone who collaborated with the Nazis and was labeled as a Nazi Spy. She was a trader to her home country of France.
In 1944, France was once again liberated and free. People soon found out about Chanel’s relations with the Germans. Though she had been saved from facing consequences, the rest of France would not forgive her and they no longer wanted anything to do with her brand.
Ten years later, after giving up fashion design, she decided it was time to try and make a comeback. Once her new line came out, the French were not impressed and they still had not forgiven her for her past with German forces. They thought that her new clothing line was the same style and not much had changed. Meanwhile, Americans loved Coco Chanel’s Classic and elegant style and adopted it for themselves.
Coco Chanel had finally made her comeback dressing working women in America in a fashionable yet practical way. Eventually, France and the rest of Europe forgot about Coco Chanel’s Nazi ties and began to wear her brand once again. The whole world was wearing her brand. After never officially retiring, she eventually died January 10th, 1971. Leaving behind a massive fashion empire and legacy. She will forever be known as a major fashion icon and loved amongst those who love and appreciate fashion the way Coco Chanel did.