Chanel is one of today’s best known and most highly sought-after fashion brands, and has been one practically since it was founded by Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel in 1909. Coco can be credited with some of the most influential designs in fashion history, but modern frontman Karl Lagerfeld has definitely made the fashion house a global phenomenon. We've written a complete timeline of the iconic French fashion house, starting with the birth of petite Gabrielle.
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born on the 19th of August in 1883. Her mother was a laundry woman and her father was a street vendor, who sold work clothing and undergarments. He lived a nomadic life, travelling from town to town. Even though her middle name (French for luck) would suggest her to be a happy and lucky girl, she wasn't that fortunate in her early years. At thw age of 12, Gabrielles mother died and her father decided to sent her to an orphanage.
A strict regime
It wasn't easy, living in the orphanage, as the nuns had a strict regime. But there was an upside: Gabrielle was taught how to sew, a skill that quickly would become very useful in her life. During school holidays, she spent her time in Moulins with her family, where she was gained more experience in fine sewing. At the age of 18, she started to work for a local tailor.
After pursuing a short singing career, the origin of her nickname Coco, she moved to Deauville. In Deauville she met Etienne Balsan, an ex-military officer and a rich textile heir. After she moved in with Balsan, she started designing hats. But it wasn't before long that she met her new beau: the wealthy English Industrialist Arthur Edward 'Boy' Capel. He gave her a Parisian appartment and financed her first stores.
Her first boutique
She opened her first store in 1910. On 21 Rue Cambon she started out selling hats. The boutique was called Chanel Modes and was favoured by the most famous french actresses. They helped her to establish her reputation as a designer. Soon enough, Chanel styles were to be found all over Paris.
During this decade, Chanel opened a store in Deauville, where she introduced a sportswear collection. The collection was fully made of a loose jersey, traditionally used for men's underwear. It was a new revolution in the world of fashion at that time. In this particular collection she also introduced the famous breton striped shirt and the yachting pants.
Gabrielle Chanel opened another boutique in Biarritz, her first couture house.
Soon enough she opened another store in Paris, at 31 Rue Cambon. It would be her first couture house in Paris and nowadays still operated as the headquarters of the brand.
During the roaring twenties, Maison Chanel was established as one of the most influential fashion houses. Chanel herself was an absolute style icon, with her modern style and her strikingly fierce bob. In 1921 she unveiled her first fragrance created by Ernest Beaux, who was a former perfumer to the Tsars, Chanel no.5. Chanel no.5 was only the beginning of many perfumes to come, as she released four more perfumes during this decade.
In 1924, her first make-up line is introduced, launching lipsticks and face powders. Another eventful thing happened in 1924, as she visited her new beau, the Duke of Westminster. She drew inspiration from the tweed jacket the duke wore during horse riding and thought the fabric was unconventionally comfortable. She ordered a jacket for herself in earthy tones and it became her inspiration for the iconic women's suits.
The LBD, or Little Black Dress, made its entrance in 1926 and was an immediate success. The simplicity of the dress challenged and revolutionized fashion. Chanel stated that her inspiration came from observing an audience at the opera, and she vowed every women should dress in black. Vogue featured Chanel's LBD on their cover and said the design was an instant classic.
In the early twenties, Chanel was introduced to Samuel Goldwyn. He made her an offer no one could ever refuse: for the sum of a million dollars, he would bring her to Hollywood to design costumes for famous movie stars. In 1931, Coco travelled to America and designed for Gloria Swanson, Ina Claire and both Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich became her private clients. Unfortunately, it wasn't a match made in heaven. Chanel ultimately had distaste for the Hollywood culture and thought it was '' the capital of bad taste and vulgarity''.
Chanel is at the height of her fame in 1935. At that time she employs 4000 workers and owns 5 boutiques at Rue Cambon, the heart of fashion in Paris.
During the Second World War, Chanel decides to close her boutiques, leaving only 31 Rue Cambon open,and limiting sale to jewellery and perfume. The perfumes continued to be in high demand by American soldiers.
After her time in Switzerland during the war, Coco returns to Paris in 1954. She came home to an overly feminine style, the New Look, introduced by Dior. To her, it was a tiring silhouette and she decided to bring back her signature style. She expanded her styles with bell-bottoms and pea jackets and re-opened her couture houses. Her tweed suit was re-introduced and became a greater success than it has ever been.
In February 1955, the most iconic bag ever made, was born. The Chanel 2.55 was the first handbag with a strap, a revolutionary detail indeed. The strap was added, so that the high society ladies could juggle holding their champagne flûtes and theatre flyers, while carrying a bag. All the little details of the bag are a part of her past.
Another iconic design are the two toned slingbacks. The vision behind the shoe is actually quite simple and very logical. The beige shoe with the contrasting black toe cap, helps to shorten the feet, but elongate the legs. A timeless piece that can be worn at any occasion.
As expected, Coco is back and better than ever. Celebrities fall in love with everything she designs and famous actresses, like Brigitte Bardot and Romy Schneider are photographed with the 2.55 bag.
The 10th of January, 1971 is a black day in fashion history: Mademoiselle Chanel passes away. She worked until the very last day of her life and enjoyed every minute of it. She had a spectacular life with her many beau's and loved working in fashion. Her heritage keeps living on with her long list of influential fashion pieces.
The house of Chanel expands with the addition of their first ready-to-wear collection. This is also the first time that a large collection of accessories is distributed worldwide.
The house of Chanel needed a new nose to keep the production of perfumes going. Jacques Polge was their man, as he already developed scents for Yves Saint Laurent and Tiffany's. He is responsible for perfumes like Coco, Coco Mademoiselle, Allure and Chance.
Karl Lagerfeld made his entrance as the new appointed artistic director, responsible for couture as well as their ready-to-wear collections. A guaranteed match, because Karl looks into the past as inspiration for his designs, just like Gabrielle Chanel did. He kept Chanel's signature styles, but also helped to modernize the brand.
The first Chanel watch was introduced, with the not so surprising name: Première Watch. The design of the watch was inspired by Place Vendôme and the iconic No. 5 perfume.
In 1993 the fine jewelry and watch line is introduced. The creations are inspired by the bold characters of the first jewelry collections Mademoiselle Chanel made, as well as themes that compliment the brand's identity. Since 2007, the maison has developed its own studio for the creation of the jewelry
Chanel was a huge fan of quality products and craftsmanship. With the birth of Métiers d'Arts heritage, craft and manufacturing skills of fashion artisan workshops are preserved and promoted. The Métiers d'Arts collections showcase the work of the ateliers and keep the heritage alive.
The biggest name in the handbag history of Chanel, next to the 2.55, is the Boy bag. The bag is named after Boy Capel and is an ode to all the men in Gabrielle's life. Nevertheless, Coco's tomboyish style and love for menswear played a big part in the name too. It's quite an edgy bag and perfect for the modern woman. Want to know more about the Chanel Boy bag?