Coco Chanel

Orfeas Katsoulis | Sep 23, 2023

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Gabrielle Chanel, known professionally as Coco Chanel (January 10, 1971), was a French haute couture designer and founder of the Chanel brand. She is the only fashion designer to appear on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

She is one of the most recognized designers in history. She stood out for being one of the most innovative during World War I. She produced a break with the opulent and impractical elegance of the Belle Époque. She made a break with the opulent and impractical elegance of the Belle Époque and created a line of casual, simple and comfortable clothing. She also established herself as a designer of handbags, perfumes, hats and jewelry. Her famous women's tailored suit in piped tweed became an icon of feminine elegance, and her Chanel No. 5 perfume is an iconic product known worldwide.

Raised in a nuns' orphanage, she was known for her strong determination, ambition and vitality that she applied to her professional and social life. She achieved success as a businesswoman and social prominence in the 1910s thanks to the contacts her work offered her. Highly competitive, her opportunistic personality led her to make questionable decisions that generated controversy and damaged her reputation, especially her collaboration with the Gestapo during the German occupation of France in World War II. One of her missions at the end of 1943 was to bring a peace offer from the SS to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with the aim of ending the war.

After the war, her love affair with Nazi officer Hans Günther von Dincklage and rumors about her collaboration with the German intelligence services (later confirmed by Hal Vaughan in 2011) seriously affected her company and her image, publicity that her competitors took it upon themselves to spread. However, she was not blamed as a collaborator and managed to reopen her company in 1954, after which she achieved renewed success, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom at first, until her death in 1971.

First years

Gabrielle Chanel was born in the General Hospice of Saumur, the city's public hospital run by the Sisters of Providence very close to the Chanels' home. Gabrielle's mother, Eugénie Jeanne Devolle, was a peasant from Courpière, a small village in the north of the Puy-de-Dôme department in Auvergne. Her father, Albert Chanel, born in Nîmes to a family from the Cévennes mountains, was a peddler who traveled the country's markets. When Gabrielle was born, her parents already had a first daughter, Julia Berthe (1882-1912), who was barely a year old, and the family was living in precarious conditions. Gabrielle was mistakenly registered with the surname Chasnel in the civil registry, but as Jeanne Devolle was too weakened by childbirth and the father was absent to sign the birth certificate, the baby's surname remained misspelled. Years later, Gabrielle Chanel would add another alteration to her real name claiming that she was christened Gabrielle "Bonheur" (Happiness), a middle name that the hospital nuns would have chosen to bring her luck. The name "Bonheur" does not appear however in any document of the time. In 1884, Albert accepted 5000 francs from Jeanne's family in exchange for marrying the mother of his children in Courpière. Apart from Gabrielle and Julia, the couple had four other children: a daughter, Antoinette (1887-1920), and three sons, Alphonse (1885-1953), Lucien (1889-1941) and Augustin (born and died in 1891).

Eugénie Jeanne Devolle died at the age of 31, on February 6, 1895 exhausted by continuous pregnancies, hard work and tuberculosis. Her father then entrusted his two sons to the public assistance that will place them on farms, while his three daughters were welcomed in the orphanage of the monastery of Aubazine, Corrèze, managed by the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary, where Gabrielle and her sisters received a strict discipline and learned to sew, hand embroidery and ironing.

Chanel always fled from the memory of the Aubazine orphanage, but the austerity of this 12th century Cistercian abbey determined her style by reinterpreting some of the architectural details of the place, says Edmonde Charles-Roux in her biography Coco Chanel, L'Irrégulière. Her first biographies collect the stories that Coco invented. She claimed bourgeois origins in order to hide her humble condition, and stated that when her mother died, her father traveled to America in search of fortune and she was left in the care of insensitive aunts. She also claimed to have been born in 1893 instead of 1883 and that her mother had died when she was only two years old instead of twelve.

After acquiring basic sewing skills for six years at Aubazine, Chanel was sent to a religious boarding school in the town of Moulins, where her paternal grandparents, Angelina and Henri-Adrien Chanel, lived. The institution had a good reputation for professionally training girls without resources or pay, and finding them a decent job once their apprenticeship was over. There she met her young aunt Adrienne, just two years her senior, who became her friend and accomplice.

Aspiring artistic career

The two young women found employment in a drapery as assistants to a tailor in Moulins.

The men who went to the tailor's shop flirted with the young girls and invited them to the local cabaret, where Gabrielle was attracted to show business and began singing on the stage of a café-concert in Moulins called "La Rotonde". She was one of the many girls called poseuses, those who entertained the public between the costume changes of the main artists. The money collected was that which they obtained by passing the plate among the public as appreciation for their performance. It was around that time that Gabrielle received the nickname "Coco", possibly because of two songs in her repertoire that came to identify her: "Ko ko ko ri ko" and "Qui qu'a vu Coco?", a popular tune that told the story of a girl who had lost her dog Coco. Other sources indicate that it could be because of cocotte, a French term referring to a kept woman. As a performer she radiated a youthful charm that fascinated the cabaret's military regulars.

In 1906 she was in Vichy, a tourist town known for its thermal waters, which had a large number of concert halls, theaters and cafés where she hoped to find success as a performer. Her youthful and physical charms impressed those who auditioned her, but her singing voice was not perfect and that did not allow her to find work. Forced to find a job, she decided to enter the facilities of the "Grande Grille" spring, handing out glasses of mineral water. When the summer season ended, she returned to Moulins and, consequently, to her former job at "La Rotonde", although she despaired of establishing herself as a singer.

Balsan and Capel

In Moulins, Chanel met the cavalry officer and wealthy French textile heir Étienne Balsan, and at the age of 23 became his mistress and supplanted Émilienne d'Alençon as his favorite. At 23, she became his mistress and supplanted courtesan Émilienne d'Alençon as his favorite. For the next three years, they lived together at his chateau Royallieu near Compiègne, an area noted for its forest of equestrian trails and life of hunting and polo. This lifestyle allowed Chanel to lead a life of wealth and leisure, and to foster her social character at high-prestige parties. Biographer Justine Picardie suggested that the fashion designer's nephew André Palasse, supposedly the only son of her sister Julia-Berthe who decided to commit suicide, was actually Chanel and Balsan's firstborn.

In 1908, she began an affair with one of Balsan's best friends, English Captain Arthur Edward "Boy" Capel. During her later years, Chanel recalled, "Two gentlemen were bidding for my hot little body."

Capel, a wealthy member of the English upper class, set it up in an apartment in Paris and financed its first stores. The design of the Chanel No. 5 fragrance bottle has two probable origins attributable to Capel's sophisticated design sensibilities. Chanel is believed to have adopted the beveled rectangular lines of the Charvet vanity bottles Capel carried in her leather travel case or the style of her whiskey decanter which she admired so much that she wished to reproduce it in a "delicate, expensive and exquisite crystal." The couple spent time at various fashionable resorts such as Deauville but Capel was never faithful to her. They remained together for nine years and even continued their relationship after Capel's marriage to English aristocrat Lady Diana Wyndham in 1918.

Capel's untimely death in a car accident in late 1919 was one of the most devastating events for Chanel. Grief-stricken, she began wearing black garments as a sign of mourning and soon after designed the so-called "little black dress," which was introduced in 1926 and was described by Vogue magazine as the "outfit that everyone will wear." The black dress, available only in that color, was an immediate success and has been the epitome of simple elegance ever since. The black dress, available only in that color, was immediately a hit and has been the epitome of simple elegance ever since. After his death, she personally took it upon herself to build a monument at the site of the accident, which she used to visit in later years to lay flowers in his memory. In 1945, Chanel, who was living in Switzerland, confided to her friend Paul Morand: "His death was a terrible blow to me. In losing Capel, I lost everything. I have to say that what followed was not a life of happiness".

Hat designer and first stores

Chanel was taught by two of the best assistants of Lucienne Rabatte, a popular cloché hat designer who had worked for the Maison Lewis. She began making hats while living with Balsan, initially as an amusement that later developed into a commercial business of notable acceptance among her clients, many of whom were close to her lover.

Chanel used to wear her own creations to horse races and attract the attention of those present with her peculiar style of dress. Her avant-garde outfits, often consisting of jodhpurs and polo shirts, contrasted with the elegant dresses of the time. She became a hat maker in 1909 and opened a boutique financed by Balsan on the first floor of her bachelor apartment on Boulevard Malesherbes. The following year she established her fashion house, Chanel Modes, at 21 rue Cambon in Paris. Her career as a milliner flourished when theater actress Gabrielle Dorziat used her models in the 1912 play Bel Ami, directed by F. Nozière, and later in the magazine Les Modes.

In 1913, she opened a boutique financed by Arthur Capel in Deauville, where she introduced luxury casual wear oriented towards leisure and sport. The models were designed with low-cost fabrics such as jersey and tricot, used mostly for men's underwear. She had a privileged location on a fashionable street in the city center, where she sold hats, jackets, sweaters and the so-called marinières (long-sleeved, sailor-style T-shirts). She had the support of two members of her family: her sister Antoinette, and Adrienne Chanel, her aunt almost the same age, who Coco's grandfather had had almost towards the end of his life. Adrienne and Antoinette were called to model her designs and used to transit the city daily and take boat rides in order to promote their relative's creations. The New Yorker published: "The ladies of Deauville awoke one morning to discover a striking difference in elegance between their own clothes and Chanel fashions," while Women's Wear predicted great success for their wool knitted sweaters.

Determined to recreate the success she had enjoyed in Deauville, Chanel opened a new store in a villa opposite the casino in Biarritz in 1915. The town, located on the Basque Coast and frequented by wealthy Spanish clients, had neutrality status during World War I, which allowed it to become an area of excellence for the wealthy and those exiled from their countries by the hostilities. Only a year after its inauguration, the business had been so successful that Chanel decided to repay Capel (of her own free will) the money she had lent him as an initial investment. Shortly thereafter, she met in Biarritz the Grand Duke Demetrius Romanov of Russia, with whom she had a romantic interlude and maintained a close relationship for many years afterwards.

Consecration in the fashion world

In February 1916, on the occasion of the presentation of his first autumn collection, his garments and sports jackets appeared for the first time in Vogue magazine. In 1918, she established her fashion house with more than 300 employees in a property located at 31 rue Cambon in one of the most elegant and luxurious neighborhoods of Paris. The following year she was officially registered as a couturière and in 1921 she opened a fashion boutique offering clothing, hats, accessories and later, jewelry and perfumes.

That year Chanel modeled her company's "CC" logo, which has remained to this day. There are three theories as to the influences that shaped the design. The emblem at the entrance of her friend Irène Bratz's Château de Crémat may have been the inspiration for the logo. Other versions indicate that the windows of the Aubazine church of the orphanage where she spent her childhood or the monogram of King Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici may have had an influence at the time of the production of the Chanel brand insignia.

Its consolidation in the fashion world meant the decline of Paul Poiret's career, who resisted the practicality, rationalization and stylistic simplification that couturiers, such as Chanel, proposed in those years. The designer's simple, elegant models with understated couture finishes made Poiret's look frumpy and inappropriately crafted by comparison. The fact led to Jean Cocteau satirizing Poiret's outdated designs through his animated cartoon "Poiret goes out, Chanel comes in." Eventually his fashion house went bankrupt in the late 1920s.

In the spring of 1920, around May, the designer met the composer Igor Stravinsky thanks to the impresario of the Ballets Russes, Sergey Diaghilev. During the summer she learned that Stravinsky's family was looking for a place to live and she put them up for the time being in her home, "Bel Respiro", in the Parisian suburb of Garches, until they settled in a more suitable residence. The Stravinskys remained there until May 1921. Chanel, for her part, protected Stravinsky's new production, The Rite of Spring (1920), from financial loss by means of an anonymous present sent to Diáguilev consisting of 300,000 FRF. Diáguilev called her in 1924 to design the costumes for his ballet show Le Train Bleu at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

In 1921, she collaborated with perfumer Ernest Beaux to create her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which quickly became a success. Based on jasmine perfume, the fragrance was the first to bear the name of a designer and was packaged in a glass bottle created by Chanel herself. Quickly, Société des Parfums Chanel went on to sell other fragrances, such as Chanel No. 22, 31 Rue Cambon, Gardenia and 28 La Pause. In 1922, during the Longchamp races, the founder of the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Théophile Bader, introduced him to businessman Pierre Wertheimer. Bader was interested in introducing Chanel No. 5 fragrance in his department store. In 1924, the designer created the corporate entity Parfums Chanel after concluding an agreement with the Wertheimer brothers, Pierre and Paul, directors of the eminent Bourgeois perfume and cosmetics house since 1917. The Wertheimers agreed to provide full financing for the production, marketing and distribution of the perfume. They would receive 70% of the profits and Bader a 20% share, with Chanel the remaining 10%. Angry with the arrangement, she withdrew her participation from any business operations and fought for more than twenty years to gain full control of the company. She later referred to Pierre as the "bandit who swindled me." Her wool knitting textile factory, Tricots Chanel (later renamed to Tissus Chanel), was established in 1928 in Asnières under the direction of the Russian poet and draftsman Iliazd.

Chanel had a significant relationship with the poet Pierre Reverdy and the illustrator and designer Paul Iribe. After ending her romance with Reverdy in 1926, the two continued a friendship that lasted forty years. The designer was a primary component in her poetic output by bolstering her confidence, supporting her creative ability and mitigating her financial instability by secretly purchasing her manuscripts through her publisher. With Iribe she established her first public jewelry collection, "Bijoux de Diamants," at the request of the International Guild of Diamond Merchants in 1932. They maintained a deep bond until his sudden death in 1935 and shared the same reactionary politics. In fact, Chanel financed his anti-republican and ultra-nationalist monthly newspaper, Le Témoin, which fueled fear of foreigners and promoted anti-Semitism. In 1936, a year after the publication ended, the designer veered to the opposite extreme by financing Pierre Lestringuez's radical leftist magazine, Futur.

One of her longest and most enduring friendships was with Misia Sert, a prominent member of the Parisian elite and wife of Spanish painter José María Sert. She was attracted to Chanel when she met her "genius, lethal wit, sarcasm and maniacal destructiveness, which intrigued and dismayed everyone. Both women, raised in convents, maintained a friendship based on shared interests, confidences and drug consumption. By 1935, the designer had become an addictive drug user, injecting three doses of morphine daily until the end of her life. According to American journalist Chandler Burr, biophysicist Luca Turin told an apocryphal story in which he claimed that the designer was nicknamed "Coco" because she threw the best cocaine parties in Paris.

The writer Colette, who belonged to the same social circles as Chanel, offered a whimsical description of the couturier at work in her atelier that appeared in Prisons et Paradis (1932): "If every human face bears a resemblance to an animal, then Mademoiselle Chanel is a little black bull. That tuft of curly black hair, the attribute of calves, falls over her forehead and reaches her eyelids and dances with any movement of her head."

Relations with British aristocrats

In 1923, Vera Bate Lombardi, supposedly the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis of Cambridge, provided Chanel with entry into the highest echelons of British society. She was introduced that same year in Monte Carlo to the Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, known intimately as "Bendor". During her ten-year affair with the aristocrat, Chanel received extravagant jewelry and a house in London's prestigious Mayfair district. Other rumors indicate that the Prince of Wales Edward of Windsor (later King of Great Britain Edward VIII) had a brief affair with the designer despite the involvement with her cousin, the Duke. Years later, Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue, would insist that "the passionate, focused and fiercely independent Chanel" and "the prince had a great romantic moment together." Through Grosvenor the designer met one of her closest collaborators, Winston Churchill, who defined her as a "woman of strong personality, very capable and agreeable" and with whom she forged a lifelong friendship. In 1927, Grosvenor gave the couturier a plot of land he had bought in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, where he built his villa "La Pausa", for which he hired the architect Robert Streitz. Streitz's ideas for the elaborate staircase and courtyard were inspired by design elements from Aubazine, the orphanage where she spent her youth. When asked why she had not married the duke, the designer replied, "There have been many Duchesses of Westminster. Chanel there is only one."

Designs for film

In 1931, during her stay in Monte Carlo, she met Samuel Goldwyn through Demetrius Romanov, cousin of Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Goldwyn offered Chanel a job proposal of one million USD that included designing costumes for MGM stars twice a year in Hollywood. After accepting the offer, she traveled with Misia Sert to the United States, where she made clothes for Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never (1931) and Ina Claire in The Greeks Had A Word for Them (1932). On the other hand, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich became private clients. Her experience in producing costumes for American films gave her a distaste for the film industry and Hollywood culture, which she called "childish". The designer declared: "Hollywood is the capital of bad taste... and it is vulgar". The New Yorker speculated that she had abandoned her work because "her dresses were not sensational enough. She made a lady look like a lady. Hollywood wants a lady to look like two ladies." She did, however, continue to make designs for film but this time for French films, including Jean Renoir's The Rule of the Game (1939), in which she was featured as La Maison Chanel. The designer, aware of the young Italian Luchino Visconti's aspirations to work in film, introduced him to Renoir, who was largely impressed and hired him for his next film project.

As the decade progressed, her place of privilege in the world of haute couture was threatened. Her designs for the Hollywood film industry had failed and had not enhanced her reputation as she had hoped. On the contrary, there began to be a high rivalry with the prestigious designer Elsa Schiaparelli, whose innovative designs were full of festive and surrealistic details, which led her to garner critical acclaim and generate excitement in the fashion world. After feeling that she was losing prestige, Chanel collaborated on the play Oedipe Rex by Jean Cocteau, with whom she had worked on Orphée (1926) and Antigone (1927, based on the tragedy of the same name by Sophocles). The costumes designed for Oedipe Rex were ridiculed and severely criticized by the press: "Wrapped in bandages, the actors looked like walking mummies or victims of some terrible accident".

World War II

In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, she closed all her stores but kept open her boutique at 31 rue Cambon with only perfumes and accessories available. She claimed it was no time for fashion and 3000 employees lost their jobs. When she closed the central fashion house, she publicly confessed her political position and details of her personal life began to circulate. Her aversion to Jews and homosexuals, reportedly instilled in her convent years and sharpened by her relationships with social elites, had cemented her beliefs. In fact, she shared with most of her entourage that Jews were a Bolshevik threat to Europe. During the German occupation, Chanel resided at the Ritz Hotel, which was noted for being the preferred place of residence for high-ranking German military officers. Her love affair with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer who had been a military intelligence operative since 1920, made her stay at the Ritz Hotel possible.

World War II, specifically the Nazi takeover of all Jewish-owned properties and commercial enterprises, provided her with the possibility of being the sole recipient of all profits generated by her perfume company and its best-selling product, Chanel No. 5. The company's directors at the time, the Wertheimers, were Jewish, so Chanel used her "Aryan" status to petition the German authorities to be the sole owner of the company. The company's directors at the time, the Wertheimers, were Jewish, so Chanel used her "Aryan" status to petition the German authorities to be the sole owner of the company. On May 5, 1941, she wrote to the government administrator in charge of resolving the disposition of Jewish financial assets. Her reasons for the possession of the company were that Parfums Chanel "continues to be owned by Jews" and had been legally "abandoned" by the owners. The designer wrote: "I have an indisputable right of priority... the profits I have received from my creations since the founding of this business... are disproportionate... you can help to remedy in part the damage I have suffered in the course of these 17 years".

During the post-World War II period, the business world followed with interest and some apprehension the ongoing legal struggle for control of Parfums Chanel. The couturier had not realized that the Wertheimers, anticipating Nazi measures against Jews, had in May 1940 legally granted control of the company to Félix Amiot, a French Christian industrialist and businessman. At the end of the war, Amiot granted control back to the Wertheimers. The parties involved in the legal proceedings were aware that the designer's wartime Nazi affiliation would seriously damage her reputation and the status of the Chanel brand if it became public.

Forbes magazine summed up the dilemma facing the Wertheimers: how a "legal fight could uncover Chanel's wartime activities and ruin her image and her business. Eventually, the legal proceedings concluded with a mutually agreed decision that included renegotiating the original 1924 contract. On May 17, 1947, the designer received profits from the wartime sales of Chanel No. 5, in a sum equivalent to USD 400,000. From that moment on, her economic benefit was enormous and her income was around USD 25 million a year, making her one of the richest women in the world. In addition, Pierre Wertheimer agreed to an unusual arrangement proposed by Chanel herself in which he agreed to pay for all the expenses the designer incurred - from the trivial to the most expensive - for the rest of her life.

Declassified archival documents uncovered by Hal Vaughan revealed that the French Préfecture de Police had a brief on Chanel in which she was described as: "Seamstress and perfumer. Pseudonym: Westminster. Agent reference: F 7124. Noted as a suspect in the file." For Vaughan, "She was a facilitator. She knew everybody AND she helped the Nazis..... Everything she did was a paradox. She was so contradictory. On the one hand, she made anti-Semitic comments. Yet one of her best clients was Jewish, like the Rothschilds, and in fact her business partner was Jewish, and remained so after the war." Anti-Nazi activist Serge Klarsfeld stated that "it doesn't mean that because she has a spy number, she is necessarily personally involved. Some informers had numbers without being aware of it." Vaughan established that Chanel was involved with the German cause as early as 1941 and worked for General Walter Schellenberg, head of SS intelligence, who coordinated her business dealings with the occupation authorities.

At the end of the war, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal and sentenced to six years in prison for war crimes. He was released in 1951 due to an incurable liver disease and took refuge in Italy. The designer paid for Schellenberg's living expenses and medical care, supported financially by his wife and family, and financed his funeral in 1952.

In 1943, Chanel traveled to Berlin with Dincklage to meet with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and formulate a strategy. In late 1943 or early 1944, she and her SS superior Schellenberg devised a plan to pressure Britain to end hostilities with Germany, which resulted in the release of her nephew, André Palasse, held in a POW camp in Germany. When questioned by British intelligence at the end of the war, Schellenberg claimed that Chanel was "a person who knew Winston Churchill well enough to conduct political negotiations with him". For this mission, dubbed Operation Modellhout, they recruited Vera Bate Lombardi in a further attempt to establish contact with London and negotiate a peace treaty before Russian troops entered Berlin. Count Joseph von Ledebur-Wicheln, a Nazi agent who defected to the British Secret Service in 1944, recalled a meeting he had with Dincklage in early 1943. Dincklage proposed an inducement that would tempt her and informed von Ledebur that Chanel's participation in the operation would be assured if Lombardi was included in the operation: "The Abwehr first had to bring a young Italian girl from France . Coco Chanel joined because of her lesbian vices...."

Unaware of the machinations of Schellenberg and her friend, Lombardi played along unwittingly as a victim and believed that the upcoming trip to Spain would be a business trip to explore the possibilities of establishing a headquarters for her couture house in Madrid. Lombardi's role was to act as an intermediary and deliver a letter written by Chanel to Prime Minister Churchill sent through the British Embassy in Madrid. Ultimately the operation was a failure and British intelligence files revealed that all was discovered when Lombardi upon her arrival proceeded to denounce Chanel and the rest as Nazi spies.

In September 1944, Chanel was called in for questioning by a purge committee of the French Forces of the Interior, and the committee, without any documented evidence of her activity as a collaborator, was forced to release her after three hours. The committee, without any documented evidence of her activity as a collaborator, was forced to release her after three hours. According to her great-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when the designer returned home she said, "Churchill would have released me." There is an unpublished interview dating from September 1944 in which Malcolm Muggeridge, later a British MI6 intelligence agent, interviewed her after her appearance before the Free French investigators. Muggeridge deliberately questioned her about her wartime policies and activities, to which the designer said, "It's funny how my feelings have evolved. At first, their behaviors outraged me. Now, I practically feel sorry for those ruffians. One must refrain from contempt for the basest specimens of humanity.... "

The extent to which Churchill intervened became a subject of gossipy speculation. Some claim that Churchill instructed Duff Cooper, British ambassador to the French provisional government, to protect the designer. Finally, pressed to testify in France before investigators in 1949, Chanel left her Swiss residence to face testimony given against her at the war crimes trial of Baron Louis de Vaufreland, a French traitor and high-ranking German intelligence agent. She denied all accusations and later, her friend and biographer Marcel Haedrich offered an eloquent estimate of her collaboration with the Nazi regime: "If one were to take seriously the few revelations that Mademoiselle Chanel allowed herself to make about those dark years of the occupation, one's teeth would be set on edge".

Vaughan's disclosure of the contents of declassified military intelligence documents and the subsequent controversy generated shortly after the publication of his book in August 2011 led Chanel House to issue a statement, part of which appeared in multiple media outlets. The corporation "denied the claim" (of spying) while admitting that "company officials had read only excerpts from the book." "The truth is that she had a relationship with a German aristocrat during the war. It is clear that it was not the best time to have a love story with a German although Baron von Dincklage was English on his mother's side and she knew him before the war," the Chanel group said in a statement. The fashion house also denied that the designer was anti-Semitic by publishing that thus "she would not have had Jewish friends or ties with the Rothschild family of financiers if that had been the case."

In an interview with the Associated Press, author Vaughan explained his research journey: "I was looking for something else when I came across this document that said "Chanel is a Nazi agent".... Then I really started digging through all the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I found not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials about Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy." Vaughan also referred to the discomfort produced by the revelations provided by his book: "A great many people do not want the iconic figure of Gabrielle Coco Chanel, one of France's great idols, to be destroyed. This is definitely something that many people would have preferred to put aside, to forget..."

Career and life after the war

In 1945, he moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, although he finally returned to Paris in 1954. In 1953 he sold his villa "La Pause" to Emery Reves and a partial replica of the home was built at the Dallas Museum of Art, which contains pieces of the original furnishings and houses Reves' art collection. Unlike the pre-war period, when the fashion world was dominated only by women, it began to open up to new genres and Christian Dior's "New Look" signified a worldwide success that was followed by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Robert Piguet and Jacques Fath.

Chanel was convinced that female couturiers would rebel against the "illogical" aesthetic offered by male designers and furthermore, criticized "waist cinchers, padded bras, heavy skirts and stiff jackets". In her seventies and after an absence of fifteen years, she felt it was time to rejoin the world of fashion. The revival of his couture house in 1954 was financed by his old enemy Pierre Wertheimer. His new collection was not well received by Parisians who felt his reputation had been damaged by his relationship with the Nazis during the war. Her new tweed suits and simple dresses, which echoed the streamlined styles of the pre-war years, were described by many European critics as "old-fashioned". However, her models were well received in the United Kingdom and the United States, where she forged new clients. Vogue magazine called her "the great revolutionary" and a "lone rebel of fashion". Actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Rita Hayworth were the first celebrities to wear her new models after her re-entry into fashion.

In the 1950s, Chanel began working with goldsmith Robert Goossens, who produced some of the most important jewelry of the designer's career, including pieces with imitation pearls or crystal stones at their base, rings and earrings. Goossens' work also includes braided silver and gold pins with emeralds, pendants and crystal Byzantine crosses. He continued to work with the House of Chanel even after the death of its founder and many of his works were reversioned in fantasy format for fashion shows and presentations. On the other hand, perfume maker Henri Robert collaborated with Coco Chanel between 1955 and 1974, during which time he designed such renowned fragrances as Pour Monsieur, Chanel's first men's fragrance; Chanel No. 19, named after Coco's birthday on August 19; and Cristalle Eau de Toilette.

In 1957, she received the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award from Stanley Marcus in recognition of the "most influential designer of the century" and in 1959 she was named a fellow of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her style was again chosen to dress film stars such as Romy Schneider and Jeanne Moreau in Louis Malle's Les Amants (1958), and Delphine Seyrig in Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad (1961), as well as Maria Callas, Audrey Hepburn and American first lady Jackie Kennedy, who wore one of her models on the day of her husband John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

Before the popularization of the miniskirt, created by Mary Quant in 1964, Chanel judged it severely through a statement in which she said that the knees were the least beautiful part of the female body so they had to be kept covered. Quant pointed out that the knees were a symbol of youth and therefore had to be shown without shame.

Last year and his death

According to Edmonde Charles-Roux, she had become a tyrannical and very lonely person in her last years, occasionally frequented by Jacques Chazot, her confidante Lilou Marquand and the Brazilian Aimée de Heeren, who spent four months a year in Paris at the Hotel Meurice. The former rivals used to share happy memories of their time with the Duke of Westminster and walk together in the center of Paris.

At the beginning of 1971 she was ill and weakened, affected by osteoarthritis and her addiction to morphine, but she continued to work on her usual routine for the preparation of the spring catalog. On the afternoon of Saturday, January 9, she took a long walk and upon returning home, she felt ill and went to her room early. Chanel died the next day at the age of 87 as a result of a heart attack at the Ritz Hotel, where she had resided for more than thirty years. Her last words (according to legend) were: "Well, that's how one dies". A lonely death after a lonely life marked the end of the life of the myth. Her funeral was held at the Madeleine Church and her models occupied the front row at the ceremony. Her coffin was covered with white flowers (camellias, gardenias, orchids, azaleas) and some red roses. Her remains were interred at the Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In 1915, the fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar commented on her designs: "The woman who does not have at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion... This season the name of Chanel is on every shopper's lips". In this season the name of Chanel is on the lips of every shopper". Her firm determination and character, as well as her good economic condition, led her to impose herself on the opulent and rigid fashion of the early twentieth century and under her influence, aigrettes, long hair, hobble skirts, corsets were out of fashion and she established another simpler and more innovative style for women during the First World War. Creator of the women's tailored suit, the French designer developed a simple elegance throughout her career and introduced black and white garments, chain belts, white collared shirts and cuffs, and costume jewelry. In the 1920s, she was considered the epitome of the independent, sociable, recreational and individualistic "new woman". She turned her attention to young audiences and quickly became a flapper style icon.

Designers such as Paul Poiret and Mariano Fortuny introduced ethnic references in their haute couture creations during the 1900s and 1910s. Chanel continued this trend with Slavic designs during the 1920s. The lace and embroidery of her dresses during these periods were made exclusively by Kitmir, an embroidery house founded by the exiled Russian aristocrat, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, sister of Demetrius Romanov. Kitmir's fusion of oriental couture with stylized folkloric motifs was highlighted in her early collections. An evening dress of hers in 1922 was accompanied by a foulard over the neck or head. In addition to the foulard, her collections featured square necklines and long belted coats alluding to Russian mujik (peasants). All models were embroidered with sparkling crystals and inlaid with jet.

For the production of the Chanel suit, she introduced the use of knitted fabric, a knitted material of wool, cotton or synthetic elements produced by the Rodier company, which originally produced this fabric for the exclusive manufacture of underwear. Her wool jersey suit, consisting of a cardigan jacket, a pleated skirt and combined with low-heeled shoes, became a favorite of expensive women's fashion.

The camellia she introduced as a decorative element in her gowns was closely related to Alexandre Dumas' literary work, The Lady of the Camellias, whose story had impressed the designer since her youth. The flower itself had become a symbol of identification for the courtesan announcing her availability. Its first appearance in a design of hers was in a black gown with white trim in 1933.

The term "little black dress" is often categorized as Chanel's contribution to the fashion lexicon and as an article of clothing that has been used to this day. Its first confection was made in fine silk, crepe and with long sleeves. In 1926, Vogue featured its design and its editors predicted that it would become "a sort of uniform for all women of taste" by incorporating a standardized aesthetic that the magazine compared to the black Ford automobile obliquely. This look received widespread criticism from male journalists who commented in the form of a complaint, "No more bust, no more stomach, no more hip.... Women's fashion at this point in the 20th century will be christened 'cut it all off'."

In 1933, designer Paul Iribe collaborated with Chanel in the creation of extravagant jewelry pieces commissioned by the Guild of Diamond Merchants. The collection made exclusively in diamond and platinum was publicly exhibited and attracted a large audience of approximately 3,000 attendees over a one-month period. Obsessed with expensive jewelry, the designer turned unenviable costume jewelry into coveted accessories and partnered with Duke Fulco di Verdura to launch a jewelry line. The white bracelet enameled with a Maltese cross and stones was her favorite and became an iconic representative piece of the Verdura-Chanel duo.

The original model of the Chanel bag was made of jersey or leather with a hand-stitched quilted exterior design influenced by the jackets worn by horsemen. The chain she wore was inspired by her orphanage years, where the abbey caretakers wore chains around their waists to hold their keys. The red uniform of the convent is reflected on the inside of the bag.

During her prolonged leisure time in her youth, she used to sunbathe for long periods of time and thus made tans not only acceptable but also a symbol denoting a life of privilege and leisure. Historically, exposure to the sun had been associated with unfortunate workers condemned to an incessant day's work in the open, while extremely fair skin was a sure sign of aristocracy. In the mid 1920s, under Chanel's influence, women were seen on the beach without hats to protect themselves from the sun's rays. She was also one of the promoters of the use of short hair as a sign of female liberation and a new lifestyle. The phrase "A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life" is attributed to Chanel.


Coco Chanel was an ambitious, hyperactive, intelligent woman, with business intuition, considered a person with a bad temper, demanding and perfectionist in her craft. Many considered her a visionary and a born leader, while others believed that she tended to be calculating and opportunistic, reasons that led her to socialize with high society contacts in order to achieve advantages for her business; on the other hand, she was criticized for not taking any firm stance in times of political instability, and that she knew how to move within the institutional changes so that her business would not disappear. Vaughan defined her as a "consummate opportunist...she believed in nothing except fashion. She believed in nice clothes, in her business, and she didn't care about Hitler or the politics of Nazism. On the other hand, Justine Picardie stated that "she was so contradictory. On the one hand, she made anti-Semitic remarks. However, one of her best clients was Jewish, like the Rothschilds, and in fact her business partner was Jewish, and remained so after the war." Today, it has been noted that this attitude was common among the business class of the time, and even among American businessmen who became rich during World War II; However, Chanel's many enemies and the antipathy she aroused among the (male) businessmen of the time (although at the same time, they watched and copied her movements), as well as from conservative sectors, are known, since she advocated a fashion that could be consumed by women with their own money, and freed the female body from the traditional corset, as well as becoming a historical reference worldwide for the new generations. Until her appearance, it was unthinkable that a woman would be the world reference in women's fashion design, since it was an activity, paradoxically, considered masculine, a trend that can still be seen today in the world of fashion.

Little is known about her relationships in the private sphere since she maintained discreet relationships. As of today, it is known that most of the information on this subject is false, some even linked her with men while both were in space.

Mainly the leadership characteristics that Chanel demonstrated most strongly were the following:

She was a role model. Many are the women who later continued with her feminist attitude imposing herself to the world of men and throwing sexist barriers of the time; in addition, today, Coco Chanel, is one of the most imitated designers because of her great style and sobriety in her fashion and other designers like Karl Lagerfeld continue to turn to her designs, in which they are usually inspired.

She became a woman ahead of her time, she knew herself and knew her capabilities and weaknesses. Therefore, she enhanced her strengths and did not let herself be defeated by adversity.

She was always open to learn and develop, so she was a lifelong learner. She learned continuously throughout her life.

Willingness to change. His life was a continuous coming and going of problematic situations. From the beginning of her life things were not easy for her and she had to learn to cope in the interwar period with buoyant economic situations and disastrous situations such as the crash of 1929. Perhaps change will be the only constant in the future and the leader must accept as a challenge to work in continuous advancement and learning.

She had a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve and how far she could go, being aware of her limitations and impediments. He used his imagination, his own style and inspiration to create a great empire that today is one of the most prestigious fashion companies in the world.

She was a great communicator, being able to express her needs for the creation of the Chanel brand.

She always thought positively, being able to take advantage of all the possibilities that life offered her and to face the challenges that happened to her in life. She never ceased to be enthusiastic and the phrase "When she left the boarding school she promised herself two things: that she would never depend on a man and that she would become rich", proves it. She always kept her composure in the face of difficult situations and was confident of achieving her proposed goals.

Film and TV adaptations

The first film about the designer was Chanel Solitaire (1981), directed by George Kaczender and starring Marie-France Pisier, Timothy Dalton and Rutger Hauer.

The American television movie Coco Chanel aired on September 13, 2008 on Lifetime Television, starring Shirley MacLaine in the role of Chanel at age 70. Directed by Christian Duguay, the film also starred Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel, Olivier Sitruk as Boy Capel, and Malcolm McDowell. The film substantially portrayed her early years at the convent, her romances with Balsan and Capel, her early professional career, and her controversial return to fashion in 1954. However, it glossed over her collaboration in Nazi military operations during World War II.

Audrey Tautou, the face of Chanel SA since 2008, played the young Coco in a film entitled Coco avant Chanel (Coco before Chanel), which was released on April 22, 2009.

The film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, directed by Jan Kounen and starring Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen, concerns the alleged romance between Chanel and composer Igor Stravinsky. The film is based on the 2002 novel, Coco & Ígor by Chris Greenhalgh, and was chosen to close the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

In 2013, director Karl Lagerfeld called upon Geraldine Chaplin to play the designer in a thirty-minute short film entitled The Return, based on Chanel's return to the fashion world in the 1950s. The short film, which also featured Rupert Everett, Anna Mouglalis, Amanda Harlech and Kati Nescher, was presented at the Dallas Fair Park on the occasion of the fashion show of the "Métiers d'Art" collection.

Literary representations

Coco & Ígor is a novel written by Chris Greenhalgh, which chronicles the romance between Chanel and Ígor Stravinsky and the creative achievements that arose from their romantic affair. The novel was first published in 2003.

In 2007, a children's book titled Different Like Coco was published, chronicling Chanel's humble childhood and chronicling how she achieved sudden changes in the fashion industry.

The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman is a novel written by Karen Karbo and published in 2009, which chronicles Chanel's humble beginnings and legendary achievements.

Theatrical works

The Broadway musical Coco, with music by André Previn, script and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, opened on December 18, 1969 and ended its season on October 3, 1970. Starring Katharine Hepburn for the first eight months and Danielle Darrieux for the rest of the season, it recreated the moment when Chanel re-established its couture house between 1953-1954. At the time of its presentation, it was the most expensive show in Broadway history with a budget of 900,000 USD.


  1. Coco Chanel
  2. Coco Chanel
  3. ^ "How Poverty Shaped Coco Chanel". Time. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  4. ^ "Coco Chanel Biography". (FYI/A&E Networks). Archived from the original on 22 April 2019. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  5. ^ Horton, Ros; Simmons, Sally (2007). Women Who Changed the World. Quercus. p. 103. ISBN 978-1847240262. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  6. ^ a b Chaney, Lisa (6 October 2011). Chanel: An Intimate Life. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0141972992. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d Doerries, Reinhard (2009). Hitler's Intelligence Chief: Walter Schellenberg. New York: Enigma Books. pp. 165–66. ISBN 978-1936274130.
  8. ^ Axel Madsen, 1990, p. 17.
  9. Eric Treguier: Les comptes de Chanel enfin dévoilés. In: 9. Januar 2014, abgerufen am 26. Oktober 2021 (französisch).
  10. GABRIELLE. Abgerufen am 13. Juli 2023.

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