Coco Chanel – the Art of Fashion

Today we have our special writer Elisabeth recounting her memories and experiences from the World of Fashion - specifically Gabrielle Chanel Fashion. Elisabeth's experiences in the fashion world, her gift of observation and writing brings us a personal reflection on the world's best-known fashion couturier.

Chanel Boutique No. 31 Rue Cambon, Paris (credit: crfashionbook)

The first time I visited the Chanel Boutique at No 31 Rue Cambon in Paris was more than 50 years ago – the place where Gabrielle Chanel, better known as Coco Chanel, lived and worked for most of her life.

I remember meeting the Boutique Manager and struck up a conversation with this elegant lady. In those days we addressed each other as Madame - it would be unheard of to use first names. We spent some time talking while walking around and looking at all which was on display.

Every garment was simple, but so very elegant and chic. I fell in love with a twin set – white with some touches of black on the neck, cuffs and pockets – simply gorgeous - a similar example below.

Credit: Pinterest

As I was there at about lunch-time, Madame asked me to have some lunch with her, which I graciously accepted. It was a lengthy luncheon at the Ritz, where she told me many bits and pieces about Gabrielle.

However, just before this, she asked me would I like to see Gabrielle's apartment, which was upstairs. One large room was up there, stylish furniture and book-cases filled with books; the room was decidedly full, filled by Gabrielle's personality.

(Credit: crfashionbook)

Still a feeling of somebody living in it, there was a vibrancy in the air. Gabrielle was very happy in this room, she could design, read and often think through, what she was going to tell the next person she was going to see.

She had much pleasure in thinking of stories she could tell a new author of another book to be written about her. To one writer, who had come to present her with a copy of one of these books and said, "thank you, whatever is in here, I am the total opposite to that as well"!

Chanel was very boyish herself, her designs show, that she was happiest in simple comfortable clothes, which had style.

After the lunch we returned to the store and again it struck me how simple but elegant everything looked, it was so easy to leisurely look at everything and as you can guess I was not going to leave without the twinset!

There have been numerous books written about Gabrielle's life, many tell different tales. Madame told me that Gabrielle did not often tell the truth, she made up a lot of romantic stories, which she read in the newspapers and magazines of the time and changed her name to Coco when she became involved with a theatre troupe – quite outrageous at the time.

During and just after the First World War, Coco, as a qualified milliner, was making hats in the atelier her boy-friend had obtained for her, together with her aunt Adrienne, who was only two years older than Coco.

She travelled with her new friend 'Boy' Capel to the South of France, where the wealthy would spend their summers. Boy then financed two shops for her, one in Biarritz and one in Deauville. By then she already had a flourishing business at 21 Rue Cambon in Paris.

After the war and in the early 1920s women were ready to shed their decadent materials and corseted styles of the era for her more casual and easier to wear separates. By the time Coco was 35, she had lost Boy as her lover, he had abandoned her, however she moved to larger premises in Paris to No 31 Rue Cambon, where the Chanel boutique remains to this day.

Boy although married, could not forget Coco and became her lover again until in 1919 he had a car-accident, the car exploded, killing him; Coco was heart-broken and travelled to Italy, where she visited all the museums and fell in love with the arts. Here she met Pablo Picasso with whom she had a brief affair.

She also met a perfumier and as she liked the number 5, launched her first perfume with that name and made millions.

In the 1920s she had various affairs, sometimes overlapping: Igor Stravinsky, who was married, followed by Duke Pavlovich, a turbulent affair with a friend of Picasso, the poet Pierre Reverdy.

An affair with the Duke of Westminster followed, which inspired her 'English' look. The tweeds and the gold buttons. She also opened a store in Mayfair.

When the thirties arrived and the depression began, Coco sailed to Hollywood, where Samuel Goldwyn agreed to pay her a million dollars a year to dress his stars.

More affairs followed, a deep one with illustrator Paul Iribarnegaray, a brief romance with artist Salvador Dali and possibly some lesbian liaisons though this is unsubstantiated.

Towards the end of 1939 France declared war on Germany and Coco closed the House of Chanel, leaving only open the premises on Rue Cambon. During this war she had an affair with Hans Gunther the Baron von Dincklage, which after the war tarnished her reputation. Avoiding any punishment after the war, Coco travelled to Switzerland where she kept a low profile for ten years.

Coco was upset with the 'New Look' fashions and the luxurious materials, which she had not used on purpose. She created the Little Black Dress – very simple, yet oh so chic.

Coco with some of her designs (2)

Even today every well-dressed woman has a Little Black Dress in her wardrobe. Despite simplicity, her designs were perfectly crafted with an attention to detail. This attention came into its own when she began with a new line of accessories i.e scarfs, handbags with shoulder-straps, costume-jewellery and shoes.

In 1984 I purchased my first Chanel hand-bag; over the years whenever I happened to be able to travel through Paris, my fascination with Chanel would take me to the Rue Cambon and sometimes came away with another prized possession.

She reopened The House of Chanel in February, 1954 with her come-back collection, Coco was then 70. Coco was famous for the way in which she wore her extraordinarily long, strings of pearls and other valuable stones.

Women the world over understood her practical easy to wear stylish designs and this never waned.

Coco became frail and fragile in her later years and in bed at age 87, her maid administered a last dose of morphine and Coco went to sleep peacefully.

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