Coco Chanel and fashion story

Gabrielle BonheurCocoChanel  19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971 is a French fashion designer.  She was the only person in the couturier field to be named on Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.

While she failed to get steady work as a singer, it was at Moulins that she met rich, young French textile heir Étienne Balsan, to whom she soon became an acknowledged mistress, keeping her day job in a tailoring shop. Balsan lavished on her the beauties of “the rich life”: diamonds, dresses and pearls. While living with Balsan, Chanel began designing hats as a hobby, which soon became a deeper interest of hers. “After opening her eyes,” as she would say, Coco left Balsan and took over his apartment in Paris. Biographer Justine Picardie, in her 2010 study Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life (Harper Collins), suggests that the fashion designer’s nephew André Palasse—supposedly the only child of her sister Julie—may actually have been Chanel’s child by Balsan.

In 1909 Chanel met and began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel.

Capel financed Chanel’s first shops and his own clothing style, notably his jersey blazers, inspired her creation of the Chanel look. The couple spent time together at fashionable resorts such as Deauville, but he was never faithful to Chanel.

The affair lasted nine years, but even after Capel married an aristocratic English beauty in 1918, he did not completely break off with Chanel. His death in an auto accident, in late 1919, was the single most devastating event in Chanel’s life.

According to local report a roadside memorial at the site of the accident was placed there by Chanel, who visited it in later years to place flowers there.

Chanel became a licensed modiste (hat maker) in 1910 and opened a boutique at 21 rue Cambon, Paris named Chanel Modes.Chanel’s modiste career bloomed once theatre actress Gabrielle Dorziat modelled her hats in the F Noziere’s play Bel Ami in 1912 (Subsequently, Dorizat modelled her hats again in Les Modes).In 1913, she established a boutique in Deauville, where she introduced luxe casual clothes that were suitable for leisure and sport. Chanel launched her career as fashion designer when she opened her next boutique, titled Chanel-Biarritz, in 1915, catering for the wealthy Spanish clientele who holidayed in Biarritz and were less affected by the war. Fashionable like Deauville, Chanel created loose casual clothes made out of jersey, a material typically used for men’s underwear. By 1919, Chanel was registered as a couturiere and established her maison de couture at 31 rue Cambon.

Later in life, she concocted an elaborate false history for her humble beginnings. Chanel would steadfastly claim that when her mother died, her father sailed for America to get rich and she was sent to live with two cold-hearted spinster aunts. She even claimed to have been born in 1893 as opposed to 1883, and that her mother had died when Coco was two instead of twelve.

In 1920, she was introduced by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev to world-famous composer Igor Stravinsky (who composed ‘The Rite of Spring’), to whom she extended an offer for him and his family to reside with her. During this temporary sojourn it was rumoured that they had an affair.

Coco dated some of the most influential men of her time, but she never married. The reason may be found in her answer, when asked why she did not marry the Duke of Westminster: “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”

In 1925, Vera Bate Lombardi, née Sarah Gertrude Arkwright, reputedly the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Cambridge, became Chanel’s muse, and also her liaison to a number of European royal families. Chanel established the English look based upon Lombardi’s personal style. Lombardi also had the highest possible social connections. She introduced Chanel to her uncle, the Duke of Westminster, her cousin, the Duke of Windsor, and many other aristocratic families.In 1927 she built Villa La Pausa in Roquebrune on the French Riviera hiring the architect Robert Streitz. The villa has a staircase and a patio inspired by her orphanage, Aubazine. La Pausa has been partially replicated at the Dallas Museum of Art to welcome the Reves collection and part of Chanel’s original furniture for the house.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops. She believed that it was not a time for fashion. She lived in the Hôtel Ritz Paris on and off for more than 30 years, making the hotel her Paris home even during the German occupation. During that time she was criticized for having an affair with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer and Nazi spy who arranged for her to remain in the hotel.[14] She also maintained an apartment above her couture house at 31 rue Cambon. In 1943, after four years of professional separation, Chanel contacted Lombardi, who was living in Rome. She invited Lombardi to come to Paris and renew their work together. This was actually a cover for “Operation Modellhut”, an attempt by Nazi spymaster Walter Schellenberg to make secret contact with Lombardi’s relative Winston Churchill. When Lombardi refused, she was arrested as a British spy by the Gestapo. Chanel was later charged as a collaborator, but avoided trial due to an intervention by the British Royal family.

Chanel was a very close friend of Walter Schellenberg to the extent that when he died penniless of cancer in Turin, Chanel paid for his funeral.

Some references suggest that Coco Chanel had close contact with another Nazi, Walter Kutschmann, who was responsible for the murder of thousands of Poland’s Jews early in World War II. He was transferred to France in 1943 where he became Chanel’s Paris SS contact. Kutschmann made frequent trips to Spain with Chanel with large sums of money passing between them.

In 1945, she moved to Switzerland, eventually returning to Paris in 1954, the same year she returned to the fashion world. Her new collection did not have much success with the Parisians because of her relationship with the Nazis; However, it was much applauded by the British and Americans, who became her faithful customers.

Coco Chanel vintage fashion shows from 30’s to 1983

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