Free Press Journal

Coco Chanel birthday: The woman who revolutionised fashion


Jacqueline Kennedy wore the pink Chanel jacket the day JFK was shot

In honour of the late (and great) Coco Chanel’s birthday, Nikita Wadhawan take a closer look at some of the major style and beauty moments that have become synonymous with the house of Chanel.

Coco Chanel had a singular vision of fashion. “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous” Chanel revered. Chanel’s designs still continue to fascinate us today and have lost nothing of their appeal, simply because they have both a timeless look and iconic fashion status. Chanel, always the innovator and never the fashion follower, has left behind her legacy of quilted bags, little black dresses and famous CC logo for generations of fashion lovers to discover.

Rise of an icon

Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. Her early years, however, were anything but glamorous. After her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father, who worked as a peddler. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life’s work. Her nickname came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called “Coco.” Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,’”

Audrey Tautou in Chanel’s sailor top in the moive Coco before Chanel

A brand of comfort luxury 

As Chanel once said, “luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.” Staying true that Coco Chanel’s revolutionary designs were not just elegant but also comfortable and practical. Before the 1920’s, women used to wear black only while mourning. But this changed at the will of the one and only Coco Chanel. It was designed with the intent to be a simple cut that was versatile, everlasting and affordable. In 1922, Chanel introduced her first perfume Chanel no. 5, which quickly gained fame and became one of most distinct fragrances in the world. After a trip to the French coast Coco Chanel was so inspired by the sailors’ uniform that she incorporated the stripes into her 1917 collection.

With her love for sailor tops she forever changed the face of casual womenswear. In 1957, Chanel introduced the two-tone slingback shoes, before women mainly wore shoes that matched with the colour of their outfit. The shoes being two-tone is what made them so very revolutionary. One of the fabrics Coco Chanel used for her suits was tweed. The famous tweed fabric used for the Chanel jacket was not only inspired by menswear, but by an actual man. Coco Chanel wore her boyfriend’s (the Duke of Westminster) clothing all the time. She soon realized the comfortable and beautiful fabric would be great for her own designs. In 1924 a Scottish factory started producing the iconic tweed fabric for Chanel. Chanel at time when high-society French women only were skirts. But the rebellious as she was, Chanel loved wearing trousers herself and often borrowed her boyfriend’s suits. She began designing trousers for women, and soon they became a fashion item in every daring woman’s closet. The ground-breaking design and shape of the Yachting pants still influence the fashion trends of each year and each season.

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge sports a morden Chanel dress

Adorned by stars 

Ever since Coco declared “I don’t do fashion, I am fashion”, the brand has been synonymous with luxury and glamour, becoming one of the most timeless, covetable names to exist in the fashion realm. The Chanel no. 5 scent was famously worn by Marilyn Monroe, who claimed she only wore No. 5 at night. Even the Breton top has become one of the most stylish items in the world, worn and adored by many of the biggest fashion icons in history such as Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Birkin and Alexa Chung. Immediately after the reveal of the two-tone slingback shoes introduction celebrities like Catherine Deneuve, Romy Schneider, and Bridgette Bardot instantly were seen wearing them. First Lady Jackie Kennedy famously wore a classic, pink-tweed Chanel suit the day her husband was shot dead in 1963. She even took Hollywood by storm when Gloria Swanson in a Chanel-designed gown in 1931’s ‘Tonight or Never’. Chanel has made these celebrities into fashionista icons.

Evolution of the brand

In 1909 when Coco Chanel started her journey with millinery shop no one imagined this shop will evolve as chain stores one day and in future become a luxury brand Chanel. In last 115 years Chanel worked really hard and earned a position where it resembles luxury, style, arrogance, attitude, class and trend. A little more than a decade after her death (January 10, 1971), designer Karl Lagerfeld took the reins at her company to continue the Chanel legacy. Today her namesake company is held privately by the Wertheimer family and continues to thrive, believed to generate hundreds of millions in sales each year.