Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur to a modest family in Saumur, France, on August 19, 1883. Her childhood was tragic and lonely, and at age 12, her father, a peddler, placed her in an orphanage after her mother’s death. After being raised by nuns, Chanel learned how to sew, which led to her renowned career in the fashion industry.
Chanel acquired her nickname Coco when she performed in Vichy and Moulin’s clubs as a singer during a brief stint in her career as an entertainer. The nickname stuck, and Coco Chanel’s name became a world-famous brand in the fashion industry.
After opening her first millinery store in 1910, Coco Chanel led the field of fashion design during the 1920s in Paris. Her style was bold and elegant, and instead of corsets, her style featured comfortable pants, simple dresses, women’s trousers, costume jewelry, perfume, and textiles.
In 1922, she also introduced the world to Chanel No. 5, one of the world’s most famous perfumes. She is also credited with inventing the little black dress, an iconic dress that has appeared in many styles and designs throughout fashion’s history.
Legacy of a Designer
Chanel soon gained fame in Parisian artistic circles, designing costumes for the Ballets Russes and Jean Cocteau’s play Orphée, and became good friends with Picasso and Cocteau.
With her iconic Chanel suit and little black dress, Chanel incorporated men’s clothing elements and emphasized comfort over fashion constraints. Her designs were revolutionary for their time; she was an inspiration to women worldwide to say goodbye to uncomfortable corsets and confining body garments.
The decline in business during the 1930s economic depression led Chanel to close her business in Paris and relocate to Switzerland, where she spent some years as a self-imposed exile after a suspicious relationship with a Nazi during World War II.