Wednesday, December 22, 2010



“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
~ Coco Chanel

When one thinks of an ICON, religious iconographic images of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary may come to mind, or musical icons like Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson. But, in Fashion, the icons are alive and well, living in their brands and fans.

Coco Chanel is one of the first icons of fashion, one who revolutionized the fashion world, turned women's fashion around in a period when women were corseted into their clothes. She is one of the most revolutionary designers in the fashion, freeing women of corsetry and liberating them into trousers and more comfortable fashion.

She abhorred logos and the bourgoisie (rich). Raised in an orphanage, she didn't understand the world or the way society operated in the early 1900s. She started, literally, by accident as a hat designers (for hookers, well for high-paid call girls) and became known for her hats among the socialites of Paris.

She began to create revolutionary designs by the 1920's, which included men's wear influences in women's wear, dresses above the ankles and jewelry known as "paste" or fake, most notably long ropes of pearls. She was scandalous and arrogant and was often referred to as a "pit bull," according to Andre Leon Tally.

Upon her death, Karl Lagerfeld, who was one of her designers, took the helm of Chanel and brought it into the light that it is shown today. He added the two "C" logo and the bling that is associated with Chanel. Some say that, because of Chanel's love of simplicity in fashion, she is rolling in her grave at what has been done to her name.

The original Chanel suit was made of wool jersey, with unfinished edged, not lined, featuring a box cut jacket with no buttons or closures and a straight skirt cut to below the knee. It was simple and understated and practical for women of the time. In the 40's she did add some rope trim detail, but it still remained very simple. She continued to design until her death in 1969.

She is known for her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore the day of the infamous parade in which her husband, President John F. Kennedy was killed. Jackie Kennedy was a fan and made her fashion popular among the elegant women of the 60s, when other designers began to make their mark.

Chanel's designs have remained classic since the 1920s, including her "little black dress," her No. 5 parfum, her classic Chanel suit, ropes of pearls, trousers and men's tweeds for women, the drop waist, and many other styles for which she is known.

Here are a few other tid bits about this icon of fashion:

She loved pockets!

Coco Chanel was so enchanted with pockets that this would prove to be the main focus of her designs in handbags for women!

For Chanel, design started as a hobby.

Chanel started her career by designing hats which later became popular among the aristocratic Parisians within her friends' social circles. At first, they were for her friends who were the high-class call girls of the time, and she soon made a name for herself among the bourgoisie.

From Hosiery to high fashion:

Coco Chanel used to work as a clerk in a small hosiery shop. Her sister was the real seamstress and got Coco a job with her in a shop sewing hosiery, among other things. It was hosiery that revolutionized her fashion world, taking her boyfriends' wool jersey long johns and turning them into warm wool dresses. Her boyfriend of the time was a coal broker and knew that WWI would change the world and told her to make warm clothes for women. Though she designed prior to WWI, she took his advice and produced knit dresses for women, under which they couldn't wear corsets. This was considered risque at the time, but she literally revolutionized women from the corset!

Coco made the sun tan fashionable!

It was Coco Chanel who made a tan seem fashionable when she got burnt by sun's rays in 1923 on a cruise towards Cannes! It soon became associated with those who had time to "leisure" on the beach!

Coco wanted to be an actress, and even auditioned on the stage.

Coco was her "stage name." Her real name was Gabrielle. She thought she could sing and dance, however, never really made it past the vaudeville stage and clubs. These clubs did turn out to be quite lucrative, introducing her to some powerful Parisians who helped launch her career.

“Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating.
I want to create classics.”
~Coco Chanel

Hotel Ritz was her home, with her first shop on the Rue de Cambon.

For more than 30 years Coco Chanel made the mighty hotel Ritz in Paris her home! It was rumored that German officer Dincklage (with whom she was having an affair) made arrangements for her to stay in the hotel.

She opened her first salon on the Rue de Cambon. The salon was modest, with living quarters above. It soon became the showroom and the exclusive location for her fashion showings for her private clientele. She would position herself on the top of the stairs, down which the models would walk wearing her latest creations.

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.” ~ Coco Chanel

5 was her favorite number

She believed there was something special in the number 5 - enough that Chanel No. 5 was introduced on 5th May 1921!

She never got married

Coco Chanel might have dated and had affairs with plenty of men but she never married.

Not only did she make “black” the black it is today,
but she also created the wardrobe classic the little black dress.

“A fashion that does not reach the streets is not a fashion.” ~ Coco Chanel


Joyce said...

Love that you're posting some of the material that's used in your classes! Interesting history -- always so cool to see how the evolution of fashion correlates with evolution of politics and social change throughout history... Honestly, I've always been impressed by how you make learning so effortless through your approach, enthusiasm and unique presentation. Thank you!

Leslie Asfour said...

How COCO got her name:
Gabrielle became a singer at La Rotunde, where, in her husky voice, she sang “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Who’s seen Coco in the Trocadero?”. From that time she became know as “Coco”, which remained with her throughout her life.