She is the most famous fashion designer of all time. A myth, an icon, a business woman, a muse.
She was phenomenal, intelligent, chic (even before the word chic was coined) and inventive.
This autumn, her incredible, charismatic and irreverent personality will be brought to life again by “Mademoiselle Privé”, a journey to the origins of CHANEL’s world, presented at Saatchi Gallery in London.
Installed on all three floors of the Gallery, the enticing adventure will bring to mind the House’s essential elements: audacity, freedom and innovation, whether it is the history of Gabrielle Chanel’s inspirations or Karl Lagerfeld’s inimitable take on CHANEL’s codes, symbols and icons.
To pay homage to her immense creativity I’ve uncovered 17 curious and unexpected stories about Chanel’s life.
You might know a few of these already, so you might also play the game of how well you know your Chanel!
Let me know in the comments how well you fared!
By the first time she arrived in Paris in 1907 she was noticed by her schoolgirl ensemble: black smock, white lavallière with a velvet bow and orphan shoes. “I have very firm distastes”, she declared.
Pinned nonchalantly but strikingly to the buttoned belt of a jersey suit composed of a sailor top with large pockets and long skirts, the camellia made its first discreet appearance in 1913.
Chanel borrowed it from the new generation of dandies, who casually pinned the camellia on their jackets. From that moment the camellia became the emblem of Coco’s world, a recurring elements of her style and one of her lucky charms.
In the hall of her apartment at 31 rue Cambon, there were inlaid camellias branches on her famous Coromandel lacquered screen, dating back to Kangxi period.
In 1932, Chanel, the queen of costume jewelry, designed the most incredible, sumptuous, exuberant collection of diamonds of all time.
All through the month of November, 30000 visitors came to Paris to admire the fine jewelry collection, displayed in the private and ultra-sophisticated atmosphere of Coco’s hotel-particulier at 29 rue du Faoubourg-Saint-Honoré.
At the time the value of the jewelry collection was estimated at 93 million francs.
She had the discreet habit of keeping a little fine powder in a white lawn handkerchief hidden up her jacket sleeve.
With her usual visionary acumen she soon created a packet of powder papers to remove shine, an idea which the Japanese, lovers of pale, pure complexion, would take up sixty years later.
Coco had the ability to take everything she loved and match it to a contemporary taste, making it unique, even desirable.
Her way of wearing a garment, of dressing it up by adding chains, flowers or pearls, became a template for the fashionable elite, who tried to copy her.
Coco never made any sketches.
An artist to her very fingertips, she used scissors, pins and live model to create her clothes, see them progress, feel them come to life, as if modeling clay.
Chanel met the Palermo-born duke Fulco di Verdura, who shared with her his passion for non-conventional jewelry.
They reinvented the “maltese cross”, one of the symbol of her Byzantine inspired costume jewelry collections.
It was Grand Duke Dimitri, grandchild of Tsar Alexander II and cousin of Nicolas II, who introduced her to the Russian opulence. Above all, she loved to visit with him the Treasury of St. Mark’s in Venice, to take inspiration from.
The concept of a coordinated suit is believed to have been initially inspired by the first tailor-made suits created for women by the English designer John Redfern in the late 19th century.
Chanel N° 5 was launched on May 5 1921.
It was the modern abstract perfume. More than 83 components went into the making of the perfume’s aura (sillage), a practice unheard of at the time when perfumes were generally limited to a simple combination of floral fragrances.
Quilting is a technique that Chanel borrowed from the jackets worn by stable boys at the racetracks.
She used that technique as a trademark of her famous 2.55 quilted bag. She also adopted the quilting technique for garments.
The trick was to join the suit lining and fabric to prevent the jackets from losing its shape.
Chanel soon invented a style on her own to which she remained faithful to the end. Pitch-black hair which she cut herself one morning in 1917.
A thick fringe, which accentuated her dark eyes, enhanced by dark make-up and “impatient” lips highlighted with bright red lipstick.
Only pearls could capture the light, illuminate the face, embellish it like an invisible layer of make-up.
Some say Chanel taste for pearls dated back to her liaison with Boy Capel, other to the gifts from Grand Duke Dimitri. Still others claim she was always fond of the oriental pearls in Renaissance paintings.
When Chanel made her comeback in 1954, Paris remembered her, first and foremost, for her chunky costume jewelry, which included pearls.
Coco was never seen bare-faced and wore vermillion red on her lips at all times, retouching automatically as soon as the color began to fade.
So in 1921 she made herself the first stick of blood red lip color, simply protected in a tube of waxed paper.
She had created the precursor to today’s ready-to-wear lipstick.
In Biarritz, in 1915, Chanel opened her first real couture house, where women flocked to buy her discreet, nouveau-chic suited garments.
Chanel loved the sea and the sun, exposing her arms and neckline and dared to sport a tan. But she instinctively sensed the need to protect the skin from sunburn.
In 1924 she invented Huile Tan, the first sun-tan oil.
She would later ask her researchers to work on UV filters to add to her oil. Shortly afterwards she extended her range to sun-kissed makeup Poudre Tan, similar to the bronzing powder used today.
The timeless suit was first shown in Paris in 1954 and it could be considered the last act of the incredible life of Coco.
The jacket and the skirt of the Chanel suit were always cut from the same piece of fabric, tweed, to avoid color variations.
In November 1926, Vogue Magazine dubbed Chanel’s little black dress “the Ford dress”, alluding to the famous standardized car, and just like its namesake automobile, the dress received unprecedented success.
In fact, for its design, Chanel had applied Ford’s principle of radical simplicity.
If you’re fond of Chanel’s world and you want to learn more check the website about the current London exhibition at Saatchi Gallery.
If you happen to be in London while it’s on, then lucky you!