If you open your closet, there is likely at least one piece of clothing or accessory inspired by Coco Chanel. As one of fashion’s biggest namesakes, this shouldn’t be very surprising. Coco Chanel left a tremendous mark on the fashion industry, which is still seen today. She paved the way for female fashion designers and completely changed the industry. This, in turn, also changed societal points of view. Women started to dress more comfortably and become more than just housewives. Coco is partially to thank for that! But what do you really know about this fashion icon? How did she get her start? Where did she get her inspiration?
If you’re like us, you want to know a little bit more about the “behind-the-scenes” stories of Chanel’s life and brand. So, we’re taking a closer look at some of the more fascinating facts behind the creation of the luxury French brand.
What’s in a name?
Coco Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France. But even though it’s the name we recognize around the world, Coco wasn’t her birth name. Coco’s real name was Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. Maybe her parents had some intuition about the success their daughter would achieve- her middle name, Bonheur, is a French word meaning“happiness.” Where did the nickname come from though? As a young woman, Gabrielle was a cabaret singer. Two of her favorite songs were “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco.” This is where she adopted the nickname and ran with it.
Where it all began
Coco didn’t come from a life of glitz and glam. Surprisingly, her upbringing was the exact opposite. Her father was a peddler and her mother passed away from tuberculosis when Coco was a young girl. When she was 12 years old, her father left her and her 4 siblings at an orphanage. She was raised by nuns and spent the next 6 years mastering the art of sewing. Little did she know this was a skill that would lead to her life’s work.
Hats off to Coco
Contrary to what many assume, the first shop Coco Chanel opened was actually not a couture shop. In fact, she got her start by making hats! In 1910, Coco received her millinery license and opened up her first hat shop with the help of one of her many male admirers. Initially, Chanel built her reputation in Paris on the high quality of her hats. Her hats, known as Chanel Modes, quickly became the desire of every woman. It would be another 5 years before Chanel opened her first couture shop.
Make way for comfort
Coco Chanel was a prominent leader of the women’s fashion revolution. Up until this time, women’s fashion consisted mainly of corsets, oversized skirts, and ultra-feminine detailing. Comfortable, right? Absolutely not! Outraged by the male-dominant fashion industry, Chanel decided it was time for a change. She was the first to introduce the idea of women wearing pants, shorter skirts/dresses, and women’s suits, which forever changed the way women dress. The classic Chanel suit was the first professional clothing option women had, and is still a staple to this day. As the infamous French fashion designer puts it best, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
Say hello to the LBD
Almost every lady has her go-to little black dress. But did you know Coco Chanel was the mastermind behind this chic style? Until the 1920s, black was only worn for funerals and by ladies in mourning. In 1926, Chanel introduced a short black dress in her collection that was featured in Vogue. The LBD was an instant hit and was dubbed “Chanel’s Ford” after the popular Ford Model T automobile. Now women of all social classes could simply and quickly don a chic appearance.
Significance of the #5
Introduced in 1921, Chanel No. 5 was one of the first perfumes to mix natural and artificial essences. As Chanel once said, “Perfume is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.” But why is it called Chanel No. 5? The answer is very practical and also slightly superstitious. The popular fragrance was the 5th sample Coco Chanel tested. Additionally, Coco believed number 5 was her lucky number. Holding true to this belief, she chose this as the fragrance name and launched the product on May 5th– the fifth day of the fifth month of the year. Clearly, her superstitions were proved correct, as Chanel No. 5 is one of the best selling perfumes to this day!
Carry on, Coco!
Chanel began designing handbags in 1929. During this time, handbags were exactly as their name suggests- carried by hand and quite cumbersome. Chanel was the first to design a shoulder-carried purse, revolutionizing women’s fashion yet again. The 2.55 Chanel purse, named after the date of its release in February 1955, is still one of the most popular Chanel accessories.
The lion’s roar
Have you ever noticed the lion’s head is a very popular theme for Chanel jewelry? There is very good reason for this. Coco Chanel’s zodiac sign was Leo. For her, the lion was much more than a visual inspiration- it was an attitude, a lifestyle, a symbol of strength and independence.
As legendary and revolutionary as she may have been, Coco Chanel’s life was not without controversy.Chanel lived in a glamorous apartment in the Ritz Hotel in Paris for more than 30 years. During World War II many Nazi generals and officers stayed there, as well. Coco began dating one of the German officers. Due to the nature of their relationship, it was believed that she was collaborating with the Nazis. Allegedly, Coco was using her contacts to pass information along to the Nazis, and in return, she was allowed to remain at the Ritz, which was restricted to the public. Although she was not officially charged, Chanel’s reputation suffered.
The comeback kid
In 1938, Chanel decided it was time to retire. She wasn’t present in the fashion world again for another 15 years. Chanel came out of retirement to combat “illogical” women’s clothing created by male fashion designers of the time. In 1954, she reopened her fashion house with an updated version of the Chanel suit and other designs. Her comeback was widely criticized by the Parisians, who thought differently of her after her alleged collaboration with the Nazi party. But none of this ever stopped her. Chanel stayed true to her ambitious, creative, no BS mentality up until her death on January 10th, 1971.
Best Store to Shop Chanel in San Diego
Feeling inspired by Coco Chanel? If you’re looking to make your wardrobe more “Coco-esque,” stop by Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers on San Diego Avenue! We offer a glimpse into the world of Chanel from vintage handbags to like-new jewelry. Transform your look with iconic Chanel earrings, a bold Chanel bracelet or necklace, or even a colorful quilted handbag. You’ll head out the door looking more fashionable than ever!