Gabrielle Chanel

Prestige issue Nº1, June 1993

While tracing the lines of her destiny, we enter in the legend of a fabulous character, both secret and spectacular. Her image remains unchanged, as if time had no control over her.


© Chanel/Horst

Born on August 19th, 1883 in Saumur, Gabrielle grows in an orphanage. At a time when women are still plump, Gabrielle is a young slim brunette girl, both ardent and fierce. In 1908, the young 25 years old woman meets Etienne Balsan. Descending from the middle class, he brings her in his property near Compiegne, where she will learn about freedom. Yet the sweet idleness where she spends her time leaves her unsatisfied. Boy Capel, polo player and successful businessman, a friend of King Edward VII as of Georges Clemenceau, lives with her a fiery passion. He gives her the opportunity to work as a milliner for him, sponsoring in Deauville the first Chanel boutique. This allows her to buy from Galeries Lafayette dozens of straw hats she decorates with perfect taste. Even more,. During the war, the shortage helping, she bought an old stock of Jersey Rodier. A soft material provided previously to male underwear and where Gabrielle will cut her first clothing. Loose, casual, unstructured, their flexibility completely unknown inaugurates the ” Sports Wear.” Through her work, while men are brought to the front, she takes active responsibilities. More active, women of the time require shorter skirts, lighter ornaments, simple hats. In 1915, she establishes in Biarritz her second store. In the United States, the magazine Harper ‘s Bazaar published for the first time one of her models, marking her fame across the Atlantic. In 1919, Capel dies. Overcome by evil, it is alone now that Gabrielle will continue her inexorable rise. She becomes friends with Misia Sert, Polish and talented pianist, who will introduce her in the sphere of artists.

Subtle blend of modernity and classical refinement

She will be friends with the famous founder of the Ballets Russes Serge De Diaghiler, Nijinsky, Ecrik Satie, Picasso, Stravinsky and Dimitri Pavlovich, nephew of the last emperor , with whom she has a one-year relationship that will enable her to discover the art and the Slavic soul. An old Russia, which will remain a source of inspiration in the creation of her robes, embroideries, baroque jewelry or perfume. Established at 29 Faubourg Saint Honoré, in a luxurious hotel, the residence of Chanel is in the mid 20 a stop destination for celebrities of the era: Max Jacob, Cocteau, Raymond Radiguet. She will be in love with the poet Reverdy and in 1922, Cocteau, adopting Antigone asks Chanel to make the costumes of the play. It is at the same time that she launches, with the effect of a scandal, pants on the beaches. Following the Russian period, she met the Duke Of Westminster, the richest and most impressive man in England. He maintains for 5 years a relationship with Gabrielle that took the appearance of a real union. 5 years of idleness that allows her to complete her knowledge of the great world. And from 1926 to 1931, the Chanel fashion becomes decidedly English: Tweed jackets, sport coats, comfortable suits seem to have no purpose other than their remarkable simplicity. In 1926, Coco launched her famous little black dress that Vogue- USA then called the ” Ford Chanel.” To accessorize her fashion, Chanel launches fake jewelry. She imagines the concept of ” Total Look “. In 1928, she inaugurates her sumptuous villa the ” Pausa “, which is located in Roquebrune in the mid of France. The following year, she met Paul lribe designer, art director and multi creative who became her new companion. The ideas of these two combined talents bring new creations, especially in the field of jewelry. In 1931, Gabrielle went to Hollywood to dress several movie stars like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. The whims of the stars do not suit the milliner. Rewarded by the American newspapers ” the largest brain fashion,” Miss returned to Paris. During the summer of 35, lribe collapsed, felled by a heart attack. Despite a brilliant position, multiple acquaintances, loneliness again accompanies Gabrielle. In 1936, Coco leaves her nice hotel for the Ritz. Then the war broke out. Miss rests in Paris, then she takes refuge near Pau, then Clermont -Ferrant. Upon liberation, she goes to Switzerland, stays in Lausanne, Ouchy, Geneva, then in winter sports resorts, such as St. Moritz. What only remains for Chanel is her fragrances and makeup lines. However, while idleness wins, as fashion turns its back, she meditates her return. Coco was 70 years old when she decided to present on February 5, 1954 a new collection. However, the parade ended in a complete fiasco. But the American press makes a triumph to the ” Chanel Look”. Very quickly, Hélène Lazareff, director of “Elle” magazine, an expert in understanding the desires of women promotes the new style of Chanel. The young generation follows in her footsteps. In 1959, Mr. Stauley Neiman Marcus, owner of the fashion department stores in Dallas rewards Miss Chanel with an Oscar fashion that honors ” the most important designer of the 20th century.»

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Behind the perfection of the style, the fragility of a woman


She dies at eighty years old after laying the foundation for a new way of dressing. She imposed much more than fashion: a style, a way of walking, living, being, thus embodying the spirit of the twentieth century,the creation of a fashion is not superficial, it allows the liberation of the status of women. The revolutionary elements of her creation are based on the architecture of the rider coat, a refinement, an English elegance and the comfort of tweed jackets. Her first shocking idea was to use Jersey. Later would follow the twinset, cardigan, knitted sets. One evening, she appears at the opera with her haircut, launching fashion of short hair; she will come down tanned from a yacht and fashion tan became a cult. In search of simplicity, she will release the women from corsets, whales etc and launches a simple black dress. In 1928, she will set the Tweed with shimmering colors. In 1957, to lengthen legs, she invents the beige sandal with black tip, and then launches the shoulder bag to make women hands free. The most beautiful women in the world remain faithful to her. The list of personalities dressed by Chanel remains impressive: Mrs Chirac, Mrs. Kirk Douglas, Princess of Wales, Queen Noor of Jordan, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Caroline De Monaco, Madame Georges Pompidou, Mrs. Reagan, Mrs. Donald Trump, Ms. Simone Veil, the Duchess of Windsor. And always in the world of entertainment: Isabelle Adjani, Nathalie Baye, Catherine Deneuve, Rita Hayworth, Valérie Kapriski , Madonna, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider. Coco Chanel has imposed what has become a cultural icon of our time, she fascinates the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, the director of A Clockwork Orange and 2001 the Space Odyssey who prepares a movie about this great seamstress. The name of the actress who will play her role remains secret. There is already talk about Isabella Rossellini, Demi Moore or Winnona Ryder, the star of “Dracula” by Coppola. BUT WHAT IS THE POST- GABRIELLE CHANEL? In 1975 took place the launch of the collection of Chanel Beauty products and evening makeup. In 1984, Chanel makes the best tribute to Miss creating “Coco”. Echoing the famous nickname of Gabrielle, this fragrance haute couture whose launch corresponds with the arrival of Karl Lagerfeld, and marks for Chanel brand the signal for a new start. From now on, post- Chanel is a reality. Romantic figure famous for his ponytail, his fans, as well as his talent. Karl Lagerfeld surprises and fascinates. A prize for the creation of a coat for a competitionof the International Wool Secretariat in 1954 opened the doors of couture. While respecting the strong ideas of Gabrielle, he was able to develop the fashion of Chanel. He denied nothing and changed everything interpreting everything in his own way, with elegance, with a touch of humor and provocation. “Making a better tomorrow, with the expanded elements of the past.” This sentence of Goethe that Karl Lagerfeld often cites corresponds to his work at Chanel. The success encountered by the representations of Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel during Haute Couture fashion shows, his ability to lend credibility to a ready -to-wear declining the Chanel style proves that Mademoiselle found more than a successor in Karl Lagerfeld: an authentic heir.

8 Romy Schneider dressed by Coco Chanel. 

A WOMAN WHO DOES NOT WEAR PERFUME HAS NO FUTURE’ GABRIELLE CHANEL. If the fragrance is a juice before anything else, beyond the subtle fragrance, it’s a fantasy that needs to take shape in its wake. This ideal fragrance is reflected in the Chanel No. 5 who now joined many mythical attributes of luxury and seduction. It is Ernest Beaux, a great chemist who worked at Raillet in Moscow, that she puts in charge in 1921 to compose an abstract, unique and sumptuous mixture. He then imagines five variants of an original fragrance. Miss Chanel breathes the five vials suggested by her perfumer. Finally, she holds the fifth, on which remains attached the number on the label. Thus the legends are born of the simplest gestures. Rejecting complicated ornamentation of her time, Mademoiselle Chanel opted for a transparent bottle, flat, rectangular, of a never seen simplicity. This fragrance is now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, registered as an art object, triumph of eternity. MICHÈLE SAYEGH

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