It’s Women’s History Month every March, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate some of the courageous women who’ve helped define what it means to be a woman today. And there is no one who epitomizes the history of style better than Coco Chanel, arguably the founder of the modern fashion industry.
Modern Money Muse
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was a fascinating and thoroughly modern woman. Rather than let her humble beginnings stand in her way, Chanel actively sought financial patrons (in many cases seeking the right wealthy man to share her bed) and brazenly took risks in a world decidedly un-friendly to females. She knew money was crucial for her success, and she pursued opportunities for money to flow her way. She certainly didn’t appear to have some of the hangups many of today’s women have regarding their own worth!
Chanel was frustrated by the status quo and took matters into her own hands to solve a problem to her own satisfaction. With very little training, she knew she could create clothing that would both flatter women’s figures and allow women to move comfortably while completing their daily tasks. It was the beginning of a wholly new kind of female freedom, and it dovetailed with what was happening for women politically and socially in the early part of the 20th century.
Creating Quintessential Fashion
It is to Chanel that we can give credit for the initial idea of comfortable, chic clothing. Indeed, Chanel’s clothing was initially called ‘sportswear’, although it was certainly not used at the gym. It should come as no surprise that Chanel was the originator of the LBD, the little black dress, that is a foundation piece of any stylish woman’s wardrobe. What is interesting is the inspiration for it; partly due to the legions of women in mourning after WWI and seeking a way to make these young women remain stylish in their grief, and partly due to her disgust at the flouncy pastels society’s elite were wearing for formal wear, Chanel declared “These women. I’m bloody well going to dress them in black.” As indeed she did. Her dramatic, graphic black and white preferences, possibly influenced by her time spent with the nuns in orphanage where she spent her teenage years, ushered in a new era of formal wear and sowed the seeds for what we consider sophisticated today.
Parisian Atelier to Global Brand
Coco Chanel created a business nearly 100 years ago that has become a global brand and licensing empire. She may not have been the nicest woman on the block, but as women, we can appreciate what she achieved.
Words of Wisdom
She said a great many memorable and repeatable things, but here’s one I particularly like (and argued in a previous post):
“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”
Here’s another: “Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.”
And my favorite for Women’s History Month: “Success is often achieved by those who don’t know failure is inevitable.”
Once Upon a Time
Chanel’s story, ‘Once Upon a Time’, is well told at Chanel.com. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend you spend some time with this amazing woman’s story.
You can read more in this excellent article posted by The Business of Fashion.