Tabulous Tastemaker: Chanel

August 19, 2015

By Tab Byrum


Today we are remembering and celebrating the First Lady of Fashion the world over, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, on what is the 132nd anniversary of her birth.


To be honest, I hesitated before doing a profile of Coco Chanel because there has been so much written about her, but decided to go ahead. Chanel is one of my favorite figures from design history, with her rags to riches story and the many conquests she had along the way in both love and business. Gabriel Chanel was born in Samur, France on August 19, 1883, her mother died of bronchitis when Coco was 11, at the time her father was a traveling salesman, unable to take care of his children he sent his two sons out to work as farm laborers and his three daughters to live in the religious convent of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Mary. In this convent the nuns taught Coco a new skill, sewing, that would change her life

Coco Chanel went on to have an extraordinary life and career in the world of fashion, she is credited with creating the little black dress as well as designing clothing that allowed women to discard the uncomfortable undergarments they had been wearing by designing looser clothing in fabrics such as jersey. Chanel founded her perfume business in the 1920’s, her Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume to carry the name of a designer, Chanel No. 5 would bring her great wealth over many years and is still sold in huge amounts today.


A young Coco Chanel.


A young Chanel in the door of her first shop in Deauville, France. 


A trio of Chanel couture from the 1920’s. 


Along her journey, Coco Chanel loved many men, perhaps none more than the British polo player Boy Capel. Boy Capel financed Coco’s first shops and his own taste in men’s clothing, especially blazers, influenced her designs which can still be seen today. Boy Capel was killed in an automobile accident in December 1919, some say she never recovered from losing him.


A photo of Boy Capel reading in his apartment ( via )


Chanel in the doorway of her Deauville boutique that Boy Capel ( on left with cane) financed. ( via )

In 1925 Chanel premiered her collarless jacket and form-fitting skirt that are now legendary and still made by the House of Chanel, it was also at this time that she embraced the color of mourning, black and made it very chic for evening wear as well as the little black dress.


A closer look at a looser fitting Chanel creation, she revolutionized the way women’s clothing was designed and worn. 


The always glamorous Chanel.



Coco and her close friend, artist Salvador Dali stop for a smoke. 


Chanel by Horst P. Horst, 1937


Chanel in her apartment, 1950. 

Chanel shuttered her business when the Germans invaded Paris but stayed in the Capital city, after the war was over some accused her of befriending the Nazis, because of that her business suffered and she went into exile in Switzerland. Chanel returned to Paris in 1953 at the age of 70 and her ability to create won out over the rumors and hate some people had for her after the war, her and her fashion creations soon became more popular than ever.


Chanel working on a dress in her Paris atelier. 


A 1962 portrait by Richard Avedon of Chanel and model Suzy Parker.



Chanel in her Paris apartment, 1959.


“a dress should hang from the shoulders” ~ Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel worked up until the very day of her death, she died on January 10, 1971, at the age of 87 in her apartment in the Hotel Ritz in Paris. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel never had children of her own but left behind a great legacy of design and fashion, a legacy that continues on today more than ever. 


The iconic Chanel suit, here you see the secret weapon, the gold chain sewn into the hem of the suit jacket to make it hang just right. 


Coco Chanel 1883 ~ 1971


Images 1 & 2 courtesy
Unless otherwise noted all other images are courtesy of Pinterest, here and here.

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