Stylish Until the Day She Died

by K-Dean

Coco Chanel is buried in the Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery in Lausanne, Switzerland; her tomb is surrounded by five stone lions.

Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was a pioneering French fashion designer who introduced what is now the best selling perfume of all time, Chanel No. 5 and the famous “little black dress”.
She was born in Saumur France, on August 19 1883. When Chanel was 12-years-old her mother died of tuberculosis and her father abandoned the family. She spent six years living in an orphanage at the Roman Catholic monastery in Aubazine. This is where she learned how to be a seamstress. During school vacations, Chanel lived with relatives who taught her how to sew more with more style then the nuns had taught her. When she turned 18, she was forced to leave the orphanage and began singing and performing in bars. This is where she adopted the name Coco. While singing in bars, she met a wealthy young Frenchman named Etienne Balsan.

Balsan introduced her to the rich life, showering her with diamonds, dresses, and pearls. While living with Balsan, Chanel began designing hats as a hobby, which soon became a deeper interest of hers. In 1909 Chanel met and began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Captain Arthur Edward Boy Capel. Capel financed Chanel’s first shops and his own clothing style, notably his jersey blazers, inspired her creation of the Chanel look. The couple were together for nine years, until Capel was unfaithful He married an English aristocratic, but never truly stopped seeing Chanel. He died in a car accident, in late 1919, which was said to be the most devastating event in Chanel’s life. She dated some of the most influential men of her time, but she never married.

In 1910, Chanel became a licensed hat maker and opened a boutique named Chanel Modes. Her career took off after a theatre actress named Gabrielle Dorziat modelled her hats in the play Bel Ami in 1912. She opened a second boutique in Deauville where she introduced clothing made for leisure and sports. In 1915 her third boutique called Chanel-Biarritz put her on the map. By 1919, Chanel was registered as a couturiere and established her maison de couture at 31 rue Cambon. She dressed herself in mannish clothes, and adapted these more comfortable fashions which made made other woman feel liberated. In 1922, Chanel introduced a perfume, Chanel No. 5, which became and still is today her most successful product.

Pierre Wertheimer became her partner in the perfume business in 1924. Wertheimer owned 70% of the company, while Coco Chanel received 10%. The Wertheimers continue to control the perfume company today. She introduced her signature cardigan jacket in 1925 and signature “little black dress” in 1926. Chanel began working with Samuel Goldwyn and traveled to Hollywood twice a year to design costumes for MGM stars.

During World War II Chanel had an affair with a Nazi officer which tarnished her reputation and diminished her popularity with the Parisians. The British and Americans however loved it, and became faithful customers. In 1954 her grand comeback brought her back to the top in the fashion world. Her casual clothing and suits were once again a hit with woman everywhere as well as the introduction of pea jackets and bell bottom pants. In early 1971 Chanel, then eighty-seven years old, was still busy working on the spring collection. She died on January 10, 1971 at the Hotel Ritz where she had lived for more than 30 years.

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