One rather fascinating woman, who can lend inspiration to modern women during National Women’s History Month, is Coco Chanel, whose mark is still being made on the world as I write this.
If I were to choose one word to describe her contribution during her 88 years on the planet it would be passion. Jacqueline Dawes, founder of Brookhaven Retreat says, “Do it with passion or not at all.”
Chanel agreed wholeheartedly. She was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in 1883, though she sometimes preferred to say she was born in 1893. Who doesn’t want to be 10 years younger? Her fantastically chic style and attitude probably made her believable. Also interesting to note is that she remained single her whole life. Whether or not singles live longer is debatable, but it obviously worked for Coco, whose nickname was given to her by appreciative soldiers during her stint as a singer in cafés and concert halls of France.
After her unmarried mother died of bronchitis at 31, her father gave up their five children. At 12 or so, Chanel learned to sew in the orphanage of a Catholic monastery in France. When she left, the 18-year-old Chanel worked for a tailor. At 23, she designed hats when she became the mistress of a rich ex-military officer and textile heir in 1908. After that, she had a relationship with a wealthy English Industrialist, who financed her first shops. In 1910, she opened a millinery shop and eventually had more than one boutique. In the 1920s, Chanel was officially on the map-to-forever when she designed the first-ever loose jersey for women. Both in style and fabric, which was traditionally used to make men’s undergarments, she opposed the stiffness that restricted women’s comfort. Her passion for fashion attracted anyone and everyone who wanted to break free from old-fashioned trends.
To this day, Maison Chanel located at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris is still the headquarters of Chanel’s empire. Her second brand-building product was her fragrance, Chanel No. 5, which remains one of the most popular ever since 1922. And three years later, her signature cardigan jacket was followed by the equal booming success of the “little black dress.”
Chanel was a nurse during World War II, but after that, she regained passionate momentum in 1954, when she introduced pea jackets and bell-bottoms. Europeans didn’t appreciate her new collection, but it became wildly popular in the US, where Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, became fans. In fact, Hepburn played Chanel in a Broadway musical of her life in 1969.
Chanel never stopped working it, and all the while became one of more quotable women of her time. Years after her death in 1971 in her private apartment at The Ritz Hotel in New York City, Karl Lagerfeld became responsible for keeping Chanel’s passion alive. Since 1982, he has been Chanel’s chief designer.
Some of my favorite of her quotes are as follows:
“I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.”
“Since everything is in our heads, we had better not lose them.”
“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
“Fashion changes, but style endures.”
“Don’t spend time beating on a wall hoping to transform it into a door.”
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”
“A woman is closest to being naked when she is well dressed.”
“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”