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The store front at 21 Rue Cambon in Paris is a simple affair, consisting of just two windows that look out into a narrow and gloomy street on the other side. But it is here, a little walk from the luxurious Place Vendôme, that one of the most famous stories in the history of French fashion starts, and it is a narrative that has become legendary. On these premises, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel started her first independent boutique when she was 27 years old in 1910. Harper’s Bazaar reported only five years later that “the lady who does not own at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion… Chanel is the brand on everyone’s lips this season,” says the fashion expert.
Chanel is now a global fashion powerhouse with 310 boutiques worldwide, approximately 20,000 employees, and a roster of high-profile clients ranging from Jackie Kennedy to Marilyn Monroe, with celebrities such as Pharrell Williams, Keira Knightley, and Audrey Tautou among those who have become friends of the maison. The house’s haute couture and prêt-à-porter collections are accessorized with lines of eyewear, fragrance, cosmetics, jewelry, and timepieces.
While the worldwide empire is far removed from Gabrielle’s poor beginnings, her past is something she alternately conceals and elaborates to achieve greater dramatic impact. Being born in a poorhouse hospice and growing up in a cramped one-room home with his five siblings was a formative experience. Her mother died when she was 32, and the boys were sent to labor in the fields, while the girls were placed in a convent orphanage.
The nuns taught Gabrielle embroidery and, it seems, instilled in her a profound disdain for the cloistered existence of women. A self-described androgyne, Chanel’s initial designs were distinguished by their adaptability and practicality, which she adapted from the comfort and pragmatism of a man’s wardrobe to suit a contemporary woman. A natural and casual pose, subtle elegance, and freedom of movement were all hallmarks of her clothing, which effectively put an end to the structured corset-and-bodice silhouette of the Belle Époque and heralded a new era of elegance based on a natural and casual pose, subtle elegance, and freedom of movement.
Fashion designer Coco Chanel employed traditionally masculine colors, like as grey and navy blue, to further release her wearers from the constraints of traditional femininity. Riding, horseracing, and sailing were all examples of outdoor hobbies that provided as inspiration for the designs and materials in her collection. Historically worn by sailors and fishermen, the striped pullovers and crewneck sweaters found their way onto the opulent shoulders of the Parisian beau monde owing to the efforts of Coco Chanel.
In addition to her personal independence, tenacity, and economic acumen, Chanel demonstrated an aesthetic dedication to contemporary femininity that was unmatched. Without a husband or children, she surrounded herself with men who wielded social, cultural, and material power – from polo player Arthur Edward Capel (who sponsored her first businesses) to composer Igor Stravinsky, poet Pierre Reverdy, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, and designer Paul Iribe.
In the hands of Karl Lagerfeld, the brand reintroduced iconic aspects of the Chanel vocabulary, including as the double-C pattern, chain detailing, tweed, and costume jewelry, but with a modern material and formal twist that brought them into the twenty-first century. Having acquired 12 ateliers specializing in embroidery, shoemaking, and fabric flower creation, the House of Chanel has established itself as the premier sponsor of haute couture craft today.
His showy white coif and sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and companion cat, Choupette, helped him to establish his own personal image in the same way that Gabrielle Chanel had done before him. The Chanel fashion show, too, became known for its unforgettable spectacle. On his catwalks, Lagerfeld set out icebergs, waterfalls, and supermarket checkouts to entice the audience. At Grand Central Station in New York, Santa Monica airport, the Lido in Venice, and the Grove of Three Fountains at Versailles, the cruise collections, which were an extension of the brand’s ready-to-wear lines, were shown to the public.