Coco Chanel. Her life, lifestyle and fashion

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2000

6 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)

Free online reading

Her youth and background and her development to a stylist and trendsetter

Gabrielle Chanel was born as the second child of a not married pair on August 19th, 1883 in Saumur, France. Her father was a street vendor of a very dubious character and her mother who came from a farmer´s family died early, after hard work and humiliations by Gabrielle´s father.

At the age of 12 Gabrielle was put into an orphanage lead by nuns and when she was 18 she was sent to a boarding school where she had to sleep in unheated rooms and had to clean the floor in her sparetime as a kind of school fees replacement. Her character was formed by her poor youth which made her tough.

After having learned how to sew Gabrielle worked as a shop assistant at a small textile shop in Moulins. She dreamed of becoming a singer. The two chansons „Qui qu´a vu Coco“ and „Ko-Ko-Ri-Ko“ which she sang at a small concert café gave her the name Coco which is supposed to mean „little pet“ or something similar.

When aged 25 she got to know Ètienne Balsan, who was wealthy and heir to a textile company. He offered her a life as a mistress. Having experienced that everything has its price she went to live to Royallieu with Balsan, where he posessed a country house, bred horses and received his aristocratic friends.

Coco Chanel observed the hysterical women around her, who rather looked like bonbons than like women and got themselves down just for men. Chanel recognized that it was always the woman who lost the game, so she decided to sabotage it.

But even then, when she was still an exceptional sight wearing jodhpurs (trousers in the style of riding breeches), capes, ties, hats made of straw and sportive suits between all the other dolled up women, the clever ones started to be interested in Chanels look and wanted to know where she bought her clothes.

Coco Chanel recognized that there was something she could make money with. She got Balsan to let her his appartment in Paris where she set up a milliner´s.

After Balsan Coco Chanel got to know the wealthy polo player Arthur „Boy“ Capel, who she said was the love of her life. He died in a car accident in 1919. Capel was the one who had helped her to get a new studio in „Rue Cambon“ which still exists.

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In summer 1913 she set up a boutique in Deauville and later one in Biaritz.

Her tunikas made of jersey, her blazers made of linen and her suits became a big hit. They gave women a new vital and young feeling.

The first Chanel - suits consisted of skirts which reached the ankles, ¾ -jackets with belts made of fabrics and blouses which fitted the lining.

Chanel didn´t only want to free women from their corsets physically, something that some other stylists had already tried before, her purpose was to free them from their corsets also mentally.

Wanting to sell not only a new silhouette but a whole new lifestyle Coco Chanel already was a designer in a modern sense.

Her purposes and means

Coco Chanel´s request was the liberation of women from their dependence on men and for that she was fighting. As her means she chose chic and charme. She knew that she had to love men and know them very well to be able to defeat them.

In fact Coco Chanel liked men and she never forgot that they had been the ones who had made it possible for her to launch her business.

Their wardrobes were the examples for her outrageous look which even now hasn´t gone out of fashion yet. She knew how to use their jersey and tweed uniforms to create immortal trends. Men´s presents inspired her when it came to design jewellery and she even took their way of living over in some way; like them she learned to be egocentric and to put freedom above love. What Coco Chanel wanted was that she and all those women who wanted to live like her could move in their clothes - without loosing their attractiveness. What was important to her was mainly quality, comfort and the optimal proportions to make a body look sexy without undressing it. She very early recognized that mobility is what gets you on. She didn´t want to be locked up in elaborate and splendid silk dresses, she longed to be active.

Every stylist digests memories of his or her childhood and youth in his or her work. While the creations of other fashion designers like Dior or Saint Laurent reflect the ideal of their mothers, converted into supernatural beings, Chanel´s fashion shows the influence of cavalry officers and soldiers, school mates descending from rich families and of course the men she had affairs with.

It reflects the contradictions she has experienced in her life - combinations of masculinity and femininity, thoughness and charme, simplicity and luxury, dominance and submission.

Popular Chanel and the enlargement of her company

In 1918 she enlarged her shop in Paris and also her range; apart from summer fashion she started to create combinations of dresses with coats as well and simple but extravagant evening robes.

Coco Chanel felt that life was on her side.

In the mid-twenties of the 20th century she created the evening uniform for the modern woman by being slim and sportive like young boy, cutting her long and curly hair and wearing skirts in which you could even dance Charleston. And her black frock madeof Crêpe-de-Chine is still worn all around the world.

Flexibility and mobility have always been Chanel´s central themes and so her fashion also reacted to political changes like World War I, when even highsociety-ladies were obliged to work, think and act practically, as well as to the latest trends of avant-gardistic art.

Just in time for her 40th birthday in 1923 her first fragrance „Chanel Numéro 5“ was created. Chanel didn´t need any special name or bottle for her scent, she thought that her name and a number on a geometric glass bottle were simply enough ... 5 is supposed to be the number of the perfume sample she had chosen to be produced and sold. Chanel thought that natural flower scents smelled artificial on women and that a natural smelling perfume maybe had to be created artificially.

So it came that her perfumer once produced a fragrance containing over 80 ingredients, including artificial jasmin-scent.

Different from her competitors who worked for a specific clientele, Coco Chanel developped a personality who wasn´t only highly represented in the media, but who also was an attractive figure with whom many, many women in Europe and overseas identified with. That fact, of course, pushed her income very much.

After her poor and unkind childhood Coco Chanel felt appetite for glamour, comfort and wealthy. Now she could fullfill her dreams decorating her appartment with Chinese folding screens, crystal chandeliers and furniture of the 18th century. And her mansion on the Riviera reminded of the stars´ villas in Hollywood.

In 1931 the Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn offered Coco Chanel three million dollars a year - which was a lot of money at that time- for dressing his stars and she agreed - because of the money and the possibility of international publicity.

Chanels´fashion would have had perfectly fitted personalities like Louise Brookes or Marlene Dietrich; but as Goldwyn wanted her to dress the elderly diva Gloria Swanson this cooperation didn´t turn out to be successful. Chanel´s elegance seemed banal on her.

Chanel wasn´t the one to invent jewellery, but she gave it a new meaning. She did often imitate jewelery lovers had given her, but to her it wasn´t important to make the imitations seem as real as possible, what was significant for her was its pure aesthaetical effect, no matter if it was obviously only an imitation or not.

Chanel´s crisis

In the end of the 30ies the world´s economic crisis reduced Chanel´s income and World War II anounced itself.

In 1936 Coco Chanel experienced the humiliation of being locked out of her own studio by her own striking workers and the press now prefered Schiaparelli´s eccentric look. The summer before the illustrator and art director Paul Iribe, who was her lover at that time died of a heart attack in her precence.

All those facts made Coco Chanel feel left alone and when World War II broke out in 1939 she closed her company and dismissed all her employees. She went to Vichy, but very soon returned to Paris which was occupied by the Germans. There she had an affair with a German diplomate with whom she went to Switzerland. Living there she observed the triumph of the „New Look“ which Christian Dior presented in the late 40ies. The bonbon-looking women were back and the world of fashion was reigned by men and their desire again. Coco Chanel was 70 - and ready for her comeback...

Chanel´s comeback

In 1954 she presented a new collection which many French and English journalists called melancholic and retrospective or simply a fiasco. They didn´t know yet that what Chanel offered them was the future, not the past. In 1954 only Chanel knew that the 60ies would repeat a lot of things you had already seen in the 20ies.

But the American press was on her side, so soon she was successful again. Every woman wanted to have her slingpumps with coloured glass brooches and also her bags with a chain as a shoulder strap were copied all around the world.

Coco Chanel died on January 10th, 1971 at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. At that time her annual income was estimated to be 160 million dollars. After Coco Chanel´s death Karl Lagerfeld took her company over.

Chanel is still worn.

page 4 Source: Charlotte Seeling „Mode-Das Jahrhundert der Designer - 1900-1999“ p.98-115

C o c o C h a n e l - her life, lifestyle and fashion Nina Müller

Youth, background ,development to a stylist and trendsetter

Gabrielle Chanel- born on August 19th, 1883 in France, poor childhood - orphanage and boarding school learn how to sew, shop assistant in a small textile shop dream of becoming a singer Two songs „Qui qu´a vu Coco“ + „Ko-Ko-Ri-Ko“ gave her the name Coco got to know Ètienne Balsan who was a wealthy heir to a textile company . Chanel went to live with him.

People interested in the clothes she wore Balsan let her his apartment in Paris > milliner´s studio Chanel didn´t want to be as dolled up as all the women around her > decided to sabotage this system got to know Arthur „Boy“ Capel > love of her life (died in an accident) > helped her to a new studio in „Rue Cambon“.

her purposes and means

liberation of women from their dependence on men means: chic and charme wanted to free women from their corsets not only physically, but also mentally.

sell not only a silhouette, but a whole lifestyle men had made it possible for her to launch her business men´s wardrobes - examples for her outrageous look men´s presents - inspiration for jewellery design - important was the aesthaetical effect, no matter if it was obviously only an imitation or not.

quality - comfort - mobility - flexibility - attractiveness - sexy without undressing

influences: cavalry officers, soldiers rich school mates, above all the men she had affairs with, contradictions she has experienced in her life

Popular Chanel and the enlargement of her company

enlargement of her shop and range > now also winter clothes (dresses with coats...) and simple but extravagant evening robes; perfume, scent, fragrance > Chanel No. 5 - artificially created natural smelling perfume

Chanel´s crisis

world´s economic crisis, world war II

striking workers, press prefered Elsa Schiaparelli´s eccentric look ; cooperation with Hollywood producer

Samuel Goldwyn didn´t turn out to be successful Paul Iribe , her lover at that time died

> Chanel felt left alone, closed her company

went to Vichy + Switzerland, observed triumph of Ch. Dior´s „New Look“ > „bonbon-looking“ women were back

Chanel´s comeback

1954 presentation of a new collection > European press didn´t like it (retrospective + melancholic >

didn´t know that the future (60ies) would repeat the 20ies in many points) American press on her side - successful again

Coco Chanel died on January 10th, 1971 in Paris

Coco Chanel - fashion vocabulary

Jodhpurs (Hosen im Stil der Reiterhosen), Capes(Pellerinenmäntel), ties, hats , tunikas made of jersey, blazers made of linen, suits(Kostüme, Anzüge), skirts which reach the ankles (knöchellange Röcke), ¾ - jackets with belts made of fabric, blouses which fit the lining, jersey and tweed uniforms,black frock (Kleines Schwarzes), sling pumps with coloured glass brooches, bags with chains as a shoulder strap (Taschen mit Schulterkette)


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N. Müller

N. Müller

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Nina Müller-Ramírez (Author), 2000, Coco Chanel. Her life, lifestyle and fashion, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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