Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
Books have been written and many stories have been told. Gabrielle Chanel is an Icon, overcoming Fashion and history, our history is made of our past, but when you read Coco’s biography carefully, you understand what made her to become the Icon of the 20th century.
She survived a poor childhood is an orphanage, had a strong willing personality and saw herself as a young independent woman who was able to stand and fight for herself. She refused to marry young and she did not become what she was raised to: a house wife confined to boring domestic life. We are talking here about a very young and fierce woman, arriving in Normandy(North of France) in the early 1920’s.These were the years of great changes, Art Nouveau was spreading all over Europe, embellishing the Visual Arts with bright colors, rich floral prints, round florid shapes, life itself pictured as a never ending blooming Spring. In fashion Mr. Poiret put the Corset Era to an end, the feminine body finally spoke for itself.
He designed very fluid gowns, simply draped on the naked body, which is now the protagonist of fashion, unveiled, rediscovered, blooming again. Gabrielle Chanel was stating instead that women were part of the Society, not confined to parties or domestic life. They are working, going out, driving ( daily activities which were men’s privilege only), so they need a proper outfit for every occasion. She was a working young woman, in her boutique in Neuville, she started decorating masculine hats with bows and ribbons, giving them new shapes and very modern looks. All the High Society looked at her as the rising star in style, simply because she said that men’s fashion could be easily be declined into women’s fashion, just adding an exquisite taste in combining materials such as jersey and silk, straw and ribbons, prints on sports outfits. The modern Chanel woman took inspiration from the world of sports too, very famous is the picture of Gabrielle, before she became COCO, in Normandy wearing a jersey outfit : jacket and skirt directly inspired from the golf players fashion of those years, and a striped jersey top, with a pearl necklace, and black and beige shoes.
A kind of outfit that never goes out of style. You look at this picture and you understand that this is Style, not a seasonal caprice of a Couturier , but something made to endure. You see in this picture how an Icon is born.
Coco Chanel became the most talked about woman of her age, she was then, all of the sudden famous, rich, young and independent, not married, a business woman, in a world of men.
In fashion she states that practical and comfortable do not mean poor and cheap , but refined and stylish. Her slogan Less is More, is yelling at us that today, more than ever, elegance has nothing to do with embellishment. Her Petite Robe Noire , a black dress, minimal in the simple shape, rich in the material (silk), with the One long round pearl necklace, is what gives every woman that neat, perfect, defined look, saying I am at ease, I feel good, I am self -confident and à la Mode. Just to say :the most copied dress in fashion History. Later on in her Rue Cambon Boutique and Atelier in Paris, her maniacal obsession for details was her employees nightmare. She spent hours with her tailors and dressmakers, in the “essayages”, until she was completely satisfied of the “drop” of one jacket, or the look of the shoulder, she would go over and over it again.
She used to say that what she was selling was not fashion, but a piece of engineering , the Chanel jacket had this shabby chic allure, looking perfect when worn, without being presumptuous, if you know what I mean. You want to be dressed and look neat and perfect with the first thing you found in your wardrobe, a Chanel jacket. Classy without wanting to be a fashion victim, this, I suppose , is Coco’s secret. The attention for details spreads out also for the finishing and the lining. The jacket must be perfect even in its insides. Coco added the golden chain over the hem, so when a Mademoiselle took of her jacket and dropped it on the armchair with this nonchalant air, it would be perfectly made also inside and could be almost a reversible item, perfection everywhere. What a genius. Later on came the double C logo on linings , buckles, buttons, prints, completing and defining the Chanel Style.
Today and since the mid 1980’s Mr. Karl Lagerfeld runs Chanel. His contract is a life time one. He is the supervisor of all activities of the Maison. Every season, twice, with the Croisiere and pret- à porter collections, he brings new life to the Chanel style, if we look carefully, we find in his outfits the same old Coco, with a very modern glimpse to future. And what is it the future for Chanel? In my opinion, as Goethe used to quote, future is what was our past, enriched with elements of our present, nothing is new, nothing in style and fashion should come as a complete surprise to us. Chanel is there, will always be. Timeless class, ageless style. The COCO Style.