Sunday, February 9, 2014


Coco Chanel, born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in 1883 was only 12 when her mother died. Her father, unable to care for his three daughters and two sons left Chanel and her sisters in an orphange in Paris. Though she describes her childhood as dark, the nuns did teach her to sew and by 18 she had found work in a tailor's shop.  Her skill and her irrepressible spirit would change not only her life but the entire world of women's fashion. 

Chanel was a free spirit of grand proportions. For a while she performed as a singer at a cabaret outside of Paris. There she made many friends and aquired the nickname "Coco." By her own admission it was a shortened version of  "cocotte" (the French word for ‘kept woman.)

Teeming with creativity, she began making hats as a hobby and quickly attracted the attention of the female elite of Paris. She left the stage and with financial backing from her lover, opened her first millinary shop. 

Her distain for the uncomfortable corsette compelled Chanel to make
 her own clothes, creating styles that were less restrictive. She often included fabrics and elements from mens wear and introduced nautical stripes. Women would stop her in the streets to inquire where she bought her clothing. Seizing the opportunity, Coco began selling feminine and easy fitting dresses, winning customers from around the world. 

Those of us who love Downton Abbey have watched this fashion revolution playout over four seasons. The once corsetted Mary embraces the modern look with the soft and easy fit of her wedding dress. She was ethereal decending the staircase.

Chanel is known for many things... her perfume, her ropes of pearls, her classic collarless suit. But her most notable accomplishment was the design for the first "LIttle Black Dress"  It appeared in Vogue magazine in 1926 and was dubbed the "Chanel's Ford" meaning it was accessibile to women of all social classes. She had taken the color BLACK, long associated with death and mourning and tranformed it into something elegant, sophisticated and iconic.

Over the years the Little Black Dress has endured multiple interpretations. Dresssed up, dressed down, ruffled, feathers, cropped... it remains today an essential element for a well dressed woman. 

Watch this short video on the legend Coco Chanel...

INTERESTING NOTE - Chanel also introduced the pea jacket and bell bottom pants for women.