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“She came from nowhere and died an icon. The designs of this influential couturier permanently changed the look of the modern woman.” (Werle, 2010 p.21)

Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born into a poverty stricken family in Saumur, France on the 19th August 1883. She grew up in an orphanage and quickly graduated from working in a clothing store to rubbing shoulders with France’s aristocracy.  Chanel acquired the nickname ‘Coco’ which is possibly attributed to a song she sang as a café entertainer.

Chanel was able to practice as a milliner from an apartment in Paris in 1910 with the financial support of her lover. She opened a boutique on the rue Cambon in 1919 which is still the Chanel headquarters today. In 1921 Chanel launched the fragrance Chanel No. 5. During the Second World War sales of the perfume soared as soldiers bought the fragrance to take as gifts for loved ones back home. Today a bottle of Chanel No.5 sells every 30 seconds.

Chanel is renowned for creating women’s fashions from knit fabric which was traditionally reserved for menswear. Chanel brought an elegant masculinity to women’s clothing, adding various trims and introducing elements from sailor and military uniforms. Chanel promoted a casual look for women after the restricting formality of the corset.

Chanel favoured neutral colours and introduced the world to wearing black as day wear, a colour usually only reserved for funerals and mourning. The “Little Black Dress” (LBD) was introduced by Chanel in 1926 and made famous by actress Audrey Hepburn in the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. The LBD was, and still is, a classic outfit for many women.

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel died in 1971. Presently the House of Chanel is headed by Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld. He has been creative director since 1983. Lagerfeld consistently reinterprets the classic silhouettes while adhering to Chanel’s aesthetic and her philosophy of simplicity.

Figure 1: Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel (English, 2009)


English,B. (2009).Fashion: The 50 most influential fashion designers in the world. London: A&C Black publishers.

Werle, S. (2010). 50 Fashion Designers you should know. Germany: Prestel