The House of Chanel
What does one think of when they utter the name Chanel? Those undying interlocking C’s, the smell of jasmine and the quilted bag, which has never gone out of fashion. Is it the ‘Chanel suit’, Karl Lagerfeld or simply the legend herself: Coco? Regardless of what springs to mind, Chanel S.A. is a fashion house that, alongside it’s founder Gabrielle Chanel, shall forever go down in history as one of the most esteemed establishments in the fashion industry. As the brand that put the ‘little black dress’ on the map and the mother of blasé elegance, this couture-based enterprise is and has been one of the most successful of its time, but where did it all begin?
Coco began her journey as a singer in a French café but she had a vision and that was to transform women’s fashion from sexy to effortlessly chic. In 1909, this vision was set to take flight when Ms Chanel opened up her own shop in the apartment of her then lover, Étienne Balsan. Balsan was an heir to a heavy fortune and a French socialite – opening up a world of possibility for the young, budding designer. His connections with la crème of Paris made her millinery creations popular with the wives and mistresses of the elite. Not long after, Gabrielle ended her relationship with Balsan to vie for the affections of the much wealthier and, consequently, more influential Arthur Capel – he, like Balsan, was also an imperative influence in the success of Chanel’s early milliner’s shop.
However, the turning point of Ms Chanel’s success came almost by accident with the creation of the jersey dress. “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I put on because it was cold in Deauville” – the words that Coco herself uttered could not be truer about her success. From making a dress out of a jersey, she caused a stir in the world of restrictive Parisian fashion. Women subjected themselves to pain and discomfort, wearing corsets, gussets and tightly drawn garments, in the opinion of Chanel, to please the male eye. By introducing the loose fit of the jersey dress and, later on, blouses, two piece suits and ties that borrowed elements from menswear, Chanel was creating a whole new concept of liberation and luxury for women worldwide – a concept that the fashion forward flocked to.
Gabrielle continued to challenge the conventions of fashion by creating the ‘Little Black Dress’ out of a colour that had originally been seen as a sign of mourning. Under her reinvention, it became a symbol of sophistication and elegance and, to this day, the LBD is still an invaluable wardrobe staple for any fashion-loving woman. She also became the first designer to lend her name to a fragrance, in her case, the unforgettable Chanel No. 5, and became a pioneer for designer cosmetics, which still rake in capital for designer brands today.
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel died in 1971, however, the legacy and success of her empire has never dated. There is over 300 Chanel stores worldwide and under the headship of fashion maverick Karl Lagerfeld it remains one of the most thriving and reputable designer brands of today.