The famous fashion designer who would be known as Coco Chanel was born in Saumur, France in 1883. Her parents were Jeanne Devolle and Albert Chanel, who were only to marry after Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel - Coco's real name - was born. She was raised in austerity, partly in a convent orphanage, and was taught to sew there. When she left the convent, she was able to earn a living as a seamstress. She also spent her time in a cabaret, where she was given the name Coco.
In 1906, she became friends with a textile heir known as Etienne Balsan. She became his mistress, and in that role meets Boy Capel, an English gentleman who brought Coco to Paris, and would give her the money to finance the first shop. There is some suggestion that Chanel and Capel shared a style which would later go on to become the famous Chanel style, including the design of her Chanel no 5 bottle. After Capel's death in 1919, Coco would say that she had lost everything with his death. However, thanks to Capel's income, she had been able to become a licensed Milliner, or hat maker, and opened her first shop in 1910.
Coco Chanel would open further boutiques, again financed by Capel, in 1913 (Deauville) and 1915 (Biarritz). She bought the entire property at 31 Rue Cambon, a very fashionable area of Paris, and by the time of her lover's death in 1919, Coco was established as a couturiere, or fashion designer. She was able to take over a number of buildings on the street, from 23-31, which was the foundation of her empire. At about the same time, she became familiar with several members of the English nobility, including Churchill, the Duke of Westminster, and the Prince of Wales. These acquaintances allowed Coco to sell her designs to the most privileged and fashionable members of European society, during a golden age of fashion.
Coco Chanel in demand
The reputation of Coco Chanel increased during the 30s, to the point where she was invited to Hollywood in order to design for the stars. However, she was never happy in the film industry, and felt that her place was really with French haute couture. She was, ultimately responsible for the development of some of the most iconic styles of the 20th century, including the Little Black Dress and the Chanel Bag, as well as a revolutionary style of jewelry that used both real and simulated gems.