In 1908, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel sets up a millinery shop in the Paris apartment of her lover, the racehorse enthusiast Étienne Balsan. Ladies flock to 160 boulevard Malesherbes for her chic hats. In 1910, backed by her new beau, Arthur “Boy” Capel, Coco establishes Chanel Modes, a millinery salon at 21 rue Cambon. In coming years, the house will expand to take over numbers 27, 29 and 31. Gabrielle Chanel is licensed as a modiste, or designer of women’s fashions. Her hats are featured in the Parisian illustrated magazines, and photographed on leading stage actresses. At the Longchamp races, Coco creates a stir in the first incarnation of the Chanel suit. She later calls her signature garment the “fashion statement of the century.”
Gabrielle Chanel opens a namesake boutique in 1913 selling hats and women’s clothing in Deauville, a seaside racing resort. She is seen wearing a white camellia -the symbol of a courtesan- later to become a signature motif. Chanel coats are some of “What Fashionable Folk Are Wearing at Deauville.” In 1914, Paris elite flee the city at the outbreak of World War I, many arriving in Deauville have left their wardrobes behind. Sales of Chanel’s casual, sporty togs spike as women take on more active wartime roles. Women’s Wear predicts “a great success” for her new sweaters of wool jersey. The chemise dress makes its first apperance. In 1915, Chanel-Biarritz, a couture salon, open in the coastal town in southwestern France. Chanel buys a large stock of surplus jersey from textile maker Rodier and whips it into chic belted coats and skirts in a daring, ankle-baring length. In Feburary 1916, Chanel’s sports suits appear in American Vogue for the first time. Copies of the suits -called vareuses, or tunic-smocks- are soon seen in American department stores. Her first couture collection debuts in fall. In 1917, two-pieces suits, worn with wide sailor-collared blouses, feature large pockets. In contrast to the elaborate coiffures of the day,...
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