Chanel editorial 1994Chanel editorial 1994


  1. Origins of Coco Chanel
  2. Coco’s ambition
  3. The innovations of Madamoiselle Chanel
  4. The success
  5. Here comes the Kaiser of fashion: Karl Lagerfeld
  6. Chanel symbol of timeless elegance
  7. Virginie Viard creative director of Chanel

Gabrielle Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 in the French province: her mother, weak and sick, after having given birth to five children died prematurely. The father, a street vendor with a vice of alcohol and women, unable to bear the responsibility of raising those children, leaves them to the grandparents who decide to send the two boys to work and the three girls to the Aubazine orphanage.

After six years in the institute of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Chanel, with her aunt Adrienne, moved to Moulins. She starts working in a linen and knitwear shop as a saleswoman and then, after only one year, opens a small tailoring repair business.

Coco Chanel Coco Chanel

Thanks to this autonomy, the two are able to enjoy the social life of the small town which included the frequentation of outdoor cafes and a pavilion where musical performances were held, La Rotonde, whose customers were the young officers of the cavalry. Chanel tries the job of the singer but without success.


Only the nickname is worthy of remembrance of that period: Coco, taken from the refrain of one of his songs.

But Gabrielle isn’t intimidated by her poor results. Her goal was to change her life, to get out of that situation of precariousness and poverty that had surrounded her since she was a child. Among the army officers there was also Etienne Balsan who, intrigued and fascinated by the figure of Chanel, asks her to move with him to his estate in the countryside near Paris. Gabrielle was waiting for nothing else. She decides to follow him. It is 1908 when for the young woman it seems that her destiny is convinced to help her.

While staying at Royallieu, Chanel discovers an absolutely new world. That of sporting activities, stables, racehorses, parties, the idle life and habits of the bourgeois class. It is in these years that she conceives her style, her concept of clothing.

Uniforms play a fundamental role, those she had seen wearing at the orphanage, those of the soldiers she met in Moulins, those of the horsemen, but also those of the cocottes (the women who kept company with Balsan’s friends during parties). Coco immediately feels the need to differentiate herself.


Thus she begins to modify the hats she buys for herself, stripping them of all those useless decorations, reducing their shapes and making them more practical to wear. Everyone likes them very much, so much so that Chanel, with the financial help of Balsan, opens a small workshop in Paris in 1909. She is very successful thanks to the frequentation of bourgeois friends she met during horse racing.

The following year, in 1910, Gabrielle rents the first branch of the Chanel house in rue Cambon, thanks to the financial help of another figure of reference for the life of the designer: Arthur Capel, nicknamed Boy.
From the very beginning, business went very well and the actresses were immortalized wearing Mademoiselle Chanel hats. Thus, without effort, Coco approaches the avant-garde art world.

Coco Chanel and Boy Coco & Boy


In 1913 another winning move. During the summer, her best clients moved from the capital to Deauville in Normandy. With Boy’s approval, Chanel opens a boutique in the resort town: the customers were the same but the needs changed. Chanel, who has always been used to adapting her way of dressing to circumstances, begins to think about more suitable clothing. The inspiration is always the same but instead of horses there were sports and holiday life. The elements she introduces range from straight and comfortable knits to sporty pullovers, from masculine-cut flannel blazers to wool caps.


It is 1914, the First World War has broken out and the decision to stay in Deauville proves to be brilliant for Chanel. Coco was soon forced to produce clothing for the ladies who had left the capital in a hurry for fear of the German invasion. Her business is booming, her production is enriched with garments such as straight skirts, sailor jackets, shirts and low-heeled shoes. The uniforms of the nurses are also entrusted to Gabrielle.

After the fear, a few months later, everyone returns to Paris. But habits have changed.


Chanel is the first designer to associate her name with a perfume, the first unconsciously to work on a life style idea. In 1923 the most famous fragrance of all time was released, Chanel n ° 5. Five because Chanel chooses the fifth olfactory proposal made to her by the perfume company of Ernest Beaux and Henri Robert, with whom she begins to collaborate. Even the bottle design is rigid, simple, square, unlike the baroque ampoules of the feminine perfumes of the time.

Chanel’s intuition as a first business woman in fashion is also in this: perceiving changes in the air and following them, or if necessary, conditioning them


Although business was going well, the procurement of raw materials during the war period was extremely complicated: Chanel once again did its best and used a material that had previously been used for workwear: jersey for its creations. Not understood at first and then adored by the whole beautiful world, the new style proposed by Chanel begins to be talked about even overseas. In 1916, Harper’s Bazar publishes a model of her; from that moment Chanel’s image became international and in 1917 most of her clientele was American.

With the end of the First World War we are witnessing an evolution in the collections proposed by the French designer: no longer just jersey but also evening dresses in velvet, chiffon, satin and fur decorations.

Chanel is now a symbol of Parisian fashion and of the avant-garde artistic reality: Jean Cocteau commissions Coco for the stage costumes for Sophocles’ play Antigone in 1922. The contact between art and fashion is fundamental for the creations of the stylist who wants to experiment: in 1917, with the collaboration of her chemist friend Ernest Beaux, he created the legendary Chanel No. 5 perfume.


A few years pass, during which Chanel is increasingly established and her talent recognized and appreciated. Always in search of novelties and changes, in 1926 she invents another piece that will go down in history: the petite robe noir, the little black dress that could be worn on any occasion, today commonly called the sheath dress.

Between ’27 and ’30 her collections focus mainly on suits, with a masculine and tweed cut, thanks to her relationship with the Duke of Westminster from which she takes the English spirit.

The femininity expressed by Chanel’s dresses is not undermined by the masculine cuts to which it is inspired: its philosophy is based on principles such as elegance, simplicity, comfort and the quality of the materials that make a woman the image of herself itself and not a copy of a cliché to adhere to. It is in this period that Chanel introduces a collection of jewels, all rigorously fake.

For Chanel, jewels had the one and only function of embellishing and adorning the woman, so she believed it was useless “to go around with millions around your neck to show how rich you are.” She then opens a bijoux boutique, copying from the real ones but exaggerating their size. It goes without saying that this project is also a huge success.

But we are in the turbulent Thirties, in which society is in need of color, fantasy, frivolity after the narrow period of the war: Chanel is no longer the only one to propose an innovative style of clothing, the rivals are two women ( Schiaparelli and Vionnet ) determined and confident, proposing an equally strong fashion. So Coco is forced to modify her collections to be able to stand up to comparison.


It is 1939 and the Second World War is upon us. The Chanel fashion house closes, for the first time since its opening.
During the war, Chanel settles at the Ritz hotel where she meets and associates with a Nazi officer. At the end of the war she opts for voluntary exile in Switzerland, after being accused of treason to her homeland.

She spent nine years in Saint Moritz and when she returned to Paris in 1946, what awaits her is totally different. What people remembered about the house was the perfume and the soft fabric.


So, in 1953, she organized a fashion show to try to relaunch the brand but the expectations did not coincide with the opinions of the press that crushed the collection. Nothing gave hope for a resumption of activity. Only a proud and stubborn woman like Gabrielle Chanel could have the strength to get back on the line. And she does it in her style of hers.

She creates another piece of history, the tweed suit, consisting of three pieces: jacket, skirt and a blouse, with the weft and warp finishes of contrasting colors. Chanel was still one step ahead of everyone.

CocoTweed Suit

Another unforgettable piece, from 1955, is the 2.55 handbag, padded and quilted, with a golden chain. A few years later, the patent-topped sandals will mark another victory for the French fashion house. The Chanel style recovers its notoriety, proposing itself as an alternative to the New look proposed by Dior .

The two-tone soulier

Chanel, after an intense life, died on January 10, 1971.

Following her death, the maison was directed by the assistants who had worked with Gabrielle for years, Gaston Berthelot and Ramon Esparza, and by their collaborators, Yvonne Dudel and Jean Cazaubon. Only seven years later, a prêt-à-porter line designed by Philippe Guibourgé was introduced.


There are several films made on Chanel’s life: Chanel Solitaire of 1981, Coco Avant Chanel and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, of 2009, are some of these, there are countless printed publications dedicated to one of the most influential women of the twentieth century and to his contribution to the history of costume. Her famous phrases are many, based above all on the concept that luxury is not wealth, but the absence of vulgarity. She is ironic towards her men or her rivals. Her good taste in dressing was something innate for her, the sensitivity of elegance and attention to the female gender are the qualities that have distinguished her in her history.


But it is in 1983 with the haute couture collection that we witness the entrance on the scene of what will become the icon of the new era of the Chanel fashion house: Karl Lagerfeld . He was responsible for the new and contemporary image of the brand, firmly anchored to the stylistic values ​​of the fashion house but with innovative and young touches, always in step with the times.

Karl Lagerfeld from Chanel

In fact, in the Eighties, it was he who understood the importance of supermodels and the search for an icon to embody the values ​​of the maison. Many were the women chosen by the histrionic designer from Hamburg as testimonial, from Inès de la Fressange to Kate Moss , from actresses Nicole Kidman, Keira Knightley, Audrey Tautou and Natalie Portman and the recent Blake Lively for the fragrance Mademoiselle Chanel.

The Chanel empire, over the years, has dramatically expanded the range of action. Under the control of the Wertheimer family, numerous companies have sprung up for the production of cosmetics, jewelery, watches and eyewear, famously those that take up the quilted motif on the temples.


In addition to the continuous stylistic renewal, the Chanel maison focuses on the points of sale: thus, in 2001, it carried out a restyling of its boutiques scattered all over the world, from New York to Paris, from Tokyo to Seoul, from Vienna to Mexico City. Including that of via Sant’Andrea in Milan, curated by the architect Peter Marino.

Even the fashion shows organized during the Paris fashion week become unmissable events for fans and professionals in the sector: they are not simple fashion shows but real shows, from the locations (often the fashion shows take place in the incredible setting of the Jardins des Tuileries), to the scenographies important with attention to the smallest details.

Numerous requests for some of the maison’s iconic pieces from the most prestigious exhibitions and reviews around the world: in 2002, for example, at the exhibition dedicated to diamonds organized in Rome in collaboration with the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, there were 150 Chanel bijoux and jewels.

The collaborations strongly desired by the creative director with young people are also well known: during the fashion week of March 2011 the alliance between Chanel and Colette, the Parisian trendy multistore, was made through the opening of a so-called “fixed-term” boutique. , as if it were an art exhibition animated by musical performances and full of proposals by young creatives on 200 square meters of surface, in rue Saint Honoré.


Karl Lagerfeld ‘s prêt-à-porter is constantly changing and transforming, with each collection we witness something new, without ever straying too far from the imprint of Mademoiselle Chanel: once it is the protagonist jacket, revisited and modernized once are the accessories and details that update the iconic pieces of the maison. The colors always remain the original ones: black, white, pink, brown mix to create new and original nuances.

The woman proposed by Lagerfeldis always extremely feminine, the volumes and shapes proposed for the collections vary, shorten and tighten according to the ideal of the perfect woman of the Chanel world, in the variants of precious and refined materials, from tweed to bouclé, from leather to lace and satin.

Naomi in ChanelNaomi Campbell in SS95

The extravagance and originality of the designer and director of the maison, in recent years, has gone beyond the boundaries of the imaginable: in addition to having personally curated the advertising campaigns and some promotional videos of the maison, he has been involved in the creation of a suite of hotel made entirely of chocolate: walls, bed, linen, even the bedside lamp and the picture above the headboard (which naturally resembles a sweet bar). But the real “icing” is represented by the life-size reproduction of a shabby Baptiste Giacobini, the master’s favorite model, made by the master chocolatier Patrick Roger using a ton and a half of the brown food of the gods.


For the SS 2012 collection, the show is presented in a replica of the corridor of an airplane, with the spectators seated on armchairs, the theme is recurring since in 2008 it presented the Chanel Cruise Collection in the hangar of Santa Monica airport, with the models who got off a real plane with the Chanel logo.

The Chanel supermarket

In recent times, the setting of Chanel’s fashion shows is always very theatrical. For the presentation of the Haute Couture collections, the show was set in a large casino. Where various guests “played” at the tables talking to each other. Notably. there were Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Rita Ora, Vanessa Paradis and her daughter, as the models paraded around. The fashion house sets up a fake Chanel supermarket, for the presentation of the AW 2014 collection. The models paraded in aisles flanked by shelves full of bottles, tea boxes and Chanel biscuits. Grabbing products to read the labels, busy pushing hair and choosing fruit, baskets in hand and go shopping with the Chanel logo. Among the well-known faces, the singer Rihanna and the top model Cara Delevigne, testimonial of the brand.


The gastronomic theme returns and to present his AW 2015-2016 collection. Where the designer recreates a French wooden brasserie, where models with an elegant pace, parade and have a coffee in front of the audience of the Paris Fashion Week. The location, that of the Grand Palais, is renamed for the occasion  Brasserie Gabrielle , a tribute to Madame Coco, of course. Burgundy sofas, white tablecloths, essential service. Significantly, the fashion show has recreated a bistro of those you might find in St. Germain des Prés. Complete with a counter, waiters and bartenders.

Brasserie Gabrielle

The dresses, as often happens during the Chanel fashion shows, are, on the other hand. Left aside, to make room for the show signed by Lagerfeld. Having planned, structured and implemented her strategic plan to conquer the universe, Chanel is ready to travel into the deepest space of Deep Space.


For SS 2018, obviously at the Grand Palais, he created a jungle with a hyper-realistic appearance. Notably, complete with waterfalls and a footbridge over the river. Drawing inspiration from the Verdon, in Haute Provence. In the past he has obviously also worked with imagination. From the candid, surreal and marine setting of SS 2012 to the animated tropical garden of the Spring-Summer 2015 Haute Couture. Also for the AW 2018 fashion show the starting point is nature. In the Grand Palais in Paris, as per tradition, set up as if it were wood. Large cardboard with photos of tree trunks on the sides, a row of old oaks in the center and yellow leaves mixed with moss on the ground, to perfume the air with six months in advance.

Chanel SS 17
Chanel SS 17

The dresses are more bon-ton than usual while presenting the classic Chanel lines. Tweed suit with jacket and skirt up to the knee accompanied by pearls, while the autumn colors were camouflaged with the leaves and trees around.


Today’s Chanel is a true revolution, which has transformed a woman’s creative idea. It has marked the style of our time, in a mental projection in which the concept of luxury has taken on a particular dimension. Chanel is a symbol, an icon that preserves within itself the spirit of creative freedom .

Karl Lagerfeld  remains and represents the best interpreter of that spirit. In his ability to create yet another collection full of styles. Where past and future are mixed in an unrepeatable uniqueness, the greatness of this great director of fashion and lifestyle is affirmed. More than a stylist, Lagerfeld is a great screenwriter of the aesthetic life of women. He manages to communicate with them, without speaking. Using only his creations, which are more than the strength of a song. Each manage to reach the hearts of women to generate happiness and emotions. More than any other Hollywood director, he has been able to preserve, by innovating around the name Chanel. A story that will continue to live by its own light in the next 100 years.


In February 2019 Karl Lagerfeld passed away at 85, leaving a deep void in the world of fashion. The absence of the designer at Chanel’s latest Haure Couture show had already made one think that something was wrong with the kaiser’s health. The French fashion house appoints Virginie Viard as its new creative director. Notably, the designer had known Lagerfeld since 1987 and collaborated with him for years until she became his right hand.

Virginie and Karl

Chanel reported revenues of $17.2 billion for the year 2022.

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