Coco Chanel is a timeless icon. Most know her by her brand Chanel and her famous little black dress, tweed jacket and Chanel 5 Perfume. However many do not know that Coco was a trend setter of her time, out to change the way that people saw ashion and style of the time.
Coco was born on August 19th, 1883 in Saumur France where at the young age of 12 she was placed in an orphanage by her father after her mother’s death. This was the start of Coco’s love for fashion where she learned to sew from the nuns who raised her until the age of 18. Chanel strived forward as a woman and opened her first solo shop in 1910 selling hats. In the next couple years, she would open two other stores in addition to this and start selling the clothes she handmade.
As we know in the 1800s, there were Tailor shops owned by women who would make dresses and fix other women’s clothing. But Coco’s was different. She didn’t make clothes to suit the customer. The customer looked at the clothes in her boutique and saw they were different. They weren’t the classic ballgown and Victorian style that were customary of that time. They were new and fresh. Something different, and this was something that women designers of the time did not do. Men, like Etienne Balsan and Arthur Capel whom Coco worked for in her early 20s, decided the fashion and the trends of the time. This made Coco an influential woman in the fashion industry.
In 1920 Chanel took her fashion brand to new heights and developed “Chanel #5” her staple perfume. Even today every woman wants a bottle of classic “Chanel #5”. This perfume is still to this day the first perfume that many young ladies recieve as a gift from parents and grandparents. Coco’s legendary perfume at the time of creation was sold and backed by multiple department stores.
Why were Chanel’s designs so “out there,” though? Why were they so revolutionary? In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Victorian fashion was still very popular. Corsets to cinch the waist and large skirts were a staple, modeled after Queen Victoria herself, another female icon. This Victorian style was a very feminine style, which emphasized a small waist and larger hips and chest. Coco’s design of the Chanel suit was released in 1925 and had a fitted skirt and collarless jacket. This suit had elements of not only feminine style but also had a certain element of men’s wear. The suit was fashioned without a corset and cinching of any kind to emphasize the comfort of a woman throughout her day. Chanel said “Fashion only has two purposes: comfort and love. Beauty comes when fashion succeeds.” This was the beginning of the end for the corset and confining garments being a part of women’s everyday lives. Chanel’s designs pushed fashion from the Victorian age to the modern age.
Her other revolutionary piece was “The Little Black Dress”. We look at the little black dress today and associate it with a piece every woman needs in her closet, a staple. However, in Chanel’s day, the color black was worn by widows and in mourning. It was a color of sadness and depression. No one would think to wear this color on a daily basis unless they were mourning. Chanel showed the world how chic and beautiful black could actually be and how it didn’t have to just be a color of mourning. Chanel herself was a trendsetter wearing her own brand daily and cutting her hair into a short bob instead of the long locks style of the time, along with wearing bold red lipstick. She has been quoted saying “I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.” She was the personification of her brand and the fashion industry of the time.
Even today the Chanel name and brand is one looked upon by luxury, elegance and high fashion. Coco Chanel is a fashion icon who solely brought this world from Victorian fashion to a chic casual and created a lasting impression on the fashion industry in the 40 year period that she worked, lived, and breathed fashion. Without her we might still be wearing corsets and long skirts daily. She helped forge the path ahead for other women designers and all women of the time in their ability to be comfortable but still stylish and chic. In Coco’s own words, she said, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”Different is what Coco was in her time, and today that has made her irreplaceable.