Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Chanel: A Brief History

In 2014 Chanel is probably the best known and most iconic fashion house in the world. But how much do you really know about Chanel??

Coco Chanel(1883-1971)
Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel was the founder of the Chanel brand and the only fashion designer to be named in the Time's most influential people of the 20th century! She was unusual in the way that her influence spread beyond beautiful clothing to perfume, jewellry and bags.
Gabrielle Chanel was born to an unwed laundry woman in a charity hospital. Her mother "Jeanne" died when her daughter was only twelve years old. Later in life Gabrielle lied about her upbringing and origins as a laundry woman's daughter.
By the time she came to work she had learnt how to sew but longed for a career on the stage. She sung in a cabaret and did a season in Vichy where she tried to find work as a performer. Although she eventually decided that a stage career was not for her, it was at this time that Gabrielle acquired the name Coco.
Coco the Mistress
Chanel and Balsan
Chanel returned to Moulins to the place where she first began her cabaret work and met the wealthy textiles heir Etienne Balsan. Aged 23 Coco became Balsan's mistress and his favourite as well. Chanel supposedly even had a child to Balsan who was claimed to be her nephew. The next few years were spent living up in the alps in luxury; spoilt by Balsan and his wealth.
However, in 1908 Coco then began an affair with one of Balsan's friends Captain Arthur Edward "Boy" Capel. Years later Chanel spoke of the two gentlemen who were "outbidding for my hot little body". It was in fact Boy Capel who financed Coco's first shops and her apartment. Later it was even said that Boy's style influenced Chanel's designs and was the main influence of the Chanel No.5 bottle.
Their affair lasted nine years but even after Boy married they never really lost contact. His death in a car accident in 1918 was the single most devastating event in Chanel's life.
Chanel in the War
Chanel going into her first ever shop bought
by Boy Capel
By 1939 Coco's empire had built up massively and Chanel now had different shops. However when war was declared all of these were closed because Coco said war was not a time for fashion. 3000 female employees lost their jobs because of this; reportedly because Chanel was retaliating towards her employees who caused the shops to close before when they striked for better wages and working hours.
A controversial part of Chanel's character was her strong hatred of Jews which was supposedly formed from her early life at a convent. Chanel used this as an excuse to make more profit on her best selling product Chanel No.5. Parfums Chanel was partly owned by a Jewish family called the Wertheimers. The Nazis said that any property like this that Jews owned now did not belong to them. Coco wrote a petition to the Nazis so that she could have sole ownership of this part of her company.
What Coco didn't know was that the Wertheimers had cleverly handed over the ownership to a Christian friend of theirs to keep hold of until war was over. 

The legal battle did not end there, however. Chanel and her co-owners of Parfums Chanel continued their precarious legal battle; if 
Chanel's anti-semitism was revealed at this time it could ruin the brand's reputation and damage profits for both parties.

Finally, in 1947 the two powerhouses came to an agreement, the same agreement that they had made all those years ago in 1924.Coco herself received only two 
percent of sales of Chanel No.5 worldwide but gained all the profit that came from the perfumes during the war which in today's money would be worth around nine million US dollars. Wertheimer also payed for all of Coco's living expenses.
Chanel was in fact earning the modern equivalent of 25 million dollars a year.
Coco the Spy
During the war Chanel reportedly had an affair with the German officer Baron Hans Guenther Dincklage. Supposedly through this relationship Coco managed to secure the release of her nephew from a prisoner of war camp in Germany. As well as this, Coco also used this to try to get the Nazis to listen to her petition over the rights to Chanel Parfums.
Chanel actually reported to only travel to Madrid to try and gain political  information but according to some German files she actually recieved very little information.
Later Life
Coco continued to work until her death in 1971 when she was aged 88. By this time she was living as one of the most famous and influential women in the world in her own private apartment in the Parisian Ritz. Not bad for a laundry woman's daughter.
Chanel in Pictures

A 1970s No.5 Campaign

Chanel SS14
Chanel 2013 Campaign

Chanel Tumblr Art
Penelope Cruz in Chanel at the Oscars
Karl Lagerfield Current Head Designer and Creative Director
So has this changed your opinion of Chanel? Are you the proud owner of any Chanel goods? What is in the future of Chanel??