Coco Chanel: A Fashion Icon Legacy
Thinking of fashion, many names come into mind: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Burberry, Marc Jacobs, and Yves Saint Laurent, but the one that sticks out over all of these seems to constantly be Chanel. Chanel’s story is most inspiring due to her journey; she was not born into the glamour life. Chanel had to work for success, coming up from impoverishment, not even bringing a family with her out of it. She was to be the name on the company, the one that will be admired and noted for the work she did and the obstacles she overcame. Coco Chanel’s hardships not only shaped her future and designs, but they revolutionized fashion and created an iconic image and company that will not be forgotten. Stricken with an impoverished childhood and left abandoned, an orphanage is not the anticipated place that would foster a revolutionary. Ashamed to tell her story, she “obscured her past from others, reshaping its heartaches, smoothing the rough edge . . . [but] she could not keep all the details hidden” (Picardie 14). In a poorhouse in Saumur, France, Gabrielle Chanel was born the second of five children on August 19, 1883 (Dow and Joce). At six years old, her mother, Jeanne Devolle, passed away, which left the family with their father who had a job as a peddler, and was never fully reliable to take care of his children. Albert Chanel ran away and left his children to the orphanage, raised by nuns-the Sisters of Providence (Picardie 14). One of the hospital nuns where she was born “was [named] Gabrielle Bonheur, according to Chanel, ‘so [she] was baptized Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel’” (Picardie 16). Picardie then explains that she knew nothing of this, because she was never occasioned to check her birth certificate. She spent seven years ministered by these nuns, “slept in the unheated dormitory and sat at the table with the other destitute children who had no family to pay the tuition” (Dow and Joce). Gabrielle and her sisters lived there until she was 18, and she seldom referred to them unless one of her sisters, Julia, was involved. Julia mysteriously fell pregnant during her time there and died giving birth in 1910; Gabrielle then took on her six-year-old nephew as her own until he was old enough for boarding school, at which point he was sent to England (Picardie 40). Her time there was spent learning the art of spinning, and “[when Gabrielle] was old enough to leave, the nuns found her a job at a local boutique” (Dow and Joce). At “the House of Grampayre, where she worked as a shop assistant and seamstress,” she learned the skills she needed to design her own wardrobe and learn the business techniques that would allow her to assemble her empire to its current state (Dow and Joce). As a seamstress, “Chanel began making a name for herself within [her boyfriend, Balsan’s,] social circle, she began to envision herself as a professional milliner with a shop in Paris,” and this was a dream she set out to achieve (Dow and Joce). Around this time, she started buying hats in department stores and “remodeled them in . . . a pure and simple manner; in reaction against the prevailing over-adornmency, her friends adopted them immediately and passed the word around” (Leymarie). Opening a store is exactly what she did when, “[around] the age of 20, [she] got involved with Etienne Balsan who offered to help, . . . she soon left him for one of his wealthier friends, Arthur “Boy” Chapel.” Biography.com then explains, “[both] men were instrumental in Chanel’s first fashion venture.” She opened this shop selling hats, and in 1915, added clothing stores in Deauville and Biarritz (A&E). When “Chanel needed finance for her idea and Balsan didn’t agree,” she went to Arthur Chapel who had “completely wanted to” (Dow and Joce). Soon "Coco" was expanding to working in jersey, a first in the French fashion world. By the 1920s, “her fashion house had expanded considerably, and her chemise set a fashion trend...
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