Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel Biography
Chronicle the life and achievements of fashion icon Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. This biography will cover her early life, the establishment of the Chanel brand, her role in revolutionizing women’s fashion, and her lasting impact on the industry. It will also touch upon her controversial personal life and relationships during wartime. At PapersOwl, you’ll also come across free essay samples that pertain to Biography.
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To the average person, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is more of a concept than a person. She, or rather, her ?brand?, is best known for the “effortless” and minimal chic associated with the bourgeois lifestyle and demographic it caters to. As Karl Lagerfeld appropriately testifies to Chanel’s legacy as a fashion titan, “[she] had time to tell the world that she had invented it all, that she was the modern woman… All the other designers, some of them as influential as she was in the first 40 years of the 20th century, were suddenly forgotten.
They were men and women with none of Coco’s charm and beauty.” However, the average person (and even luxury consumer) remain largely unaware of the true history behind the brand — the history of ?Chanel. Who actually was “Coco” Chanel, where did she come from, and how did she manage to craft his impressive legacy for herself despite the odds? Moreover, is the woman whose name is worth billions, deserving of being dubbed a feminist icon? Coco Chanel was a shameless liar in all matters concerning her origins and past up until her death in 1971. Aligning quite accurately with a statement she made herself, “Reality is sad,and one will always prefer to it that beautiful parasite that is the imagination. Let my legend make its own way, I wish it a good and a long life!” her life story has been highly embellished (or outright falsified) by word of her own mouth. There is no reason to doubt that she fabricated Karl Lagerfeld, ?Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel Summer 62? (New York: Steidl Publishers, 2009), 4.2 Font, Lourdes, “L’Allure de Chanel: The Couturière as Literary Character,” ?Fashion Theory? 8. No. 3 (2004): 310.
This luxurious yet deceptive identity for herself when her formative years are taken into consideration: Born a bastard to Albert Chanel and Eugénie Jeanne Devolle on 19 August 1883,Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel would lead a rough childhood in Saumur, France. Her mother was a laundry woman and her father was a travelling street vendor, and the family was poverty-stricken with no permanent residence. When Chanel was only twelve her mother died, and in an act of financial desperation her father sent the boys of the family to work throughout France and the girls (including herself) to the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Mary orphanage in Aubazine. Orphaned and poor, Chanel was forced to become a working woman from an early age, taking up a seamstress’s day job where she learned how to sew, thus introducing her to the craft and,inevitably, industry she would soon dominate the direction of for significant periods of the twentieth century. Alongside this, Chanel also attempted to find her footing in a performance career by singing and dancing at cafés in the evenings, but was ultimately met with failure. Perhaps it was a thirst for power, wealth, and attention that she had so lacked all her life that forced Chanel to become inviolable, ultimately finding her success through opportunistic relationships with many influential and wealthy men. The most prominent of which included Arthur “Boy” Capel (arguably the most influential figure in her early career life), the Duke of Westminster, and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, to name only a few. These affairs never evolved into anything maritally permanent, but once accustomed to the life of comfort and Charles-Roux, Edmonde, ?Chanel and Her World? (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982), 16-21.4 Charles-Roux, Edmonde, ?Chanel and Her World? (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982), 29-31.5?Lisa Chaney, ?Chanel: An Intimate Life? (New York: Viking, 2011), 1-3. Although they never married and she was only his mistress, Chanel’s relationship with Arthur Capel proved to perhaps be one of the most influential and impactful one in all of her lifetime. He was one of her first major sponsors and true love, ultimately forming how she would take in culture as well as have financial support to open her first shop in Deauville in 1913.
Money, Chanel learned how to finesse her social position and connections with other artists and wealthy people (men) to open her first shops, and eventually establish her style and brand. Having many successful friends due to the connections she had was an added benefit for Chanel, and she dominated this aspect of her life to its full extent until she became a financially independent, modern woman. In a 1937 photograph with French ballet dancer Serge Lifar, Chanel has signed and addressed it to him as a token of their friendship. The photo was taken by Marcel Rochas, and the two are seen on the Côte d’Azur in France. Chanel’s personality, aesthetic, and reputation are all framed together quite concisely in this picture: simplistic chic, luxury, and an air of haughty dominance. The two are posed quite tellingly on the beach, with Chanel’s arm clutching Lifar’s shoulders quite possessively — embellished by the fact that she is taller than him — as the two smoke cigarettes, having been dressed almost identically. Both are clad in well-fitted black shirts to highlight their youth and assuméd activeness, slacks secured at the waist with a belt, both Lifar and Chanel’s hair cropped short (his gelled back, her’s secured in a turban). Of course, however, one must also consider that the shortness of her hair system is ed clothing ensemble is representative of what was fashionable during the time period, or more specifically to ?Coco Chanel?. This carefully crafted image gives the false notion of androgyny, and Chanel holds the “masculine” air of power in the visible dynamic. In a time of economic depression in the Western world, it can be assumed that the two are far removed from any financial struggle and are in good social standing, which is why they can afford to relax and partake in downtime by the beach in stylish clothes. This image is also very transparent of the Amy de la Haye, Chanel (London: V&A Publishing, 2011), 56-72.
Fact that Chanel leaned on (in the case of this image, ?literally?, as well) her friends for artistic and stylistic influence. Though having such a rough formative upbringing may explain Chanel’s apparent shame towards her humble beginnings, it does not necessarily excuse or justify her actions later in life: Chanel’s imperious drive and means of achieving success may become muddled in their honourability upon closer inspection. Her avarice can be observed through the cases of the handling of Chanel No. 5 during World War II, as well as her intolerant attitude towards competitors throughout the post-WWII period and her later life. Chanel was openly defamatory towards her gay male rivals (Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, etcetera), once regarding the New Look as a style created by “queens living out their fantasies. They dream of being women, so they make real women look like transvestites… They’ve never ?had? a woman!” The perfume controversy and the aforementioned example of Chanel’s bigotry highlight the unsavoury facets of her personality, inseparable from her legacy as it is based half on the image she popularised and half on the cult of personality surrounding her. By extension, these acts also echo the impervious attitudes of the upper-class she proudly represented. Anti-semitism, homophobia, and bigotry are often swept under the rug by those who can afford to remain comfortable thanks to their wealth and/or social standing. One modern example of this class complacency is that of Dolce & Gabbana who are similarly very elitist, marketing exclusively towards the wealthiest possible demographic. D&G, who are gay men, openly and ironically hold regressive attitudes Valerie Steele, ?Women of Fashion: Twentieth-Century Designers? (New York: Rizzoli International Publications,Inc., 1991), 46. This is in reference to how Chanel attempted to gain control of the Chanel No. 5 brand by using National Socialist legislation which was imposed on France by Germany at the time. The perfume line was, and is still, officially owned by the Wertheimer family, who are Jewish.8?Valerie Steele, ?Women of Fashion: Twentieth-Century Designers? (New York: Rizzoli International Publications,Inc., 1991), 49-50.
Under the exhausted excuse of being “traditional,” an analogous case to Chanel who claimed to be “on the side of women” despite not being a true feminist herself. Valerie Steele states in Women of Fashion: Twentieth Century Designers? that Chanel was not a feminist because she “always believed that women dressed to please men and that they could not trust other women. She talked constantly about the importance of love in a woman’s life, and her relationships with men profoundly influenced the style that she created. While Chanel’s concept of style is very much a woman’s style, it is based on a male model of power.” This does not align with the technical definition of feminism, which is the goal of political, economic, and social equity for women alongside men — not to attain a ?man’s? position of power in a society which is built to benefit them (men). At the end of the day, however, whether or not Coco Chanel is a true feminist figure is ultimately arbitrary because everything she represents — luxury fashion and the lifestyle it sells — is an inherently elitist form and empowers women only on a socioeconomic model of the haves and have-nots. She holds indisputable cultural significance, and may be seen as a valid as a figure in feminist ?history? in that respect. The personality of Chanel is certainly also a sympathetic character thanks to rhetorically-gifted biographers such as Paul Morand, an underdog who carries a great success story. Perhaps there is some truth to the Chanel myth, as the fact of the matter remains true that she “created” an aggrandised life out of nothing for herself with the means that were available to her. However, I believe the real tragedy in the CocoChanel story is not just that she died alone, but is rather the shame and embarrassment which ?Anonymous source, “I watched D&G’s China show fall apart from the inside,” ?Dazed?, November 23, 2018, http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/42334/1/dolce-gabbana-dg-china-cancelled-shanghai-show-model-experience?. ?Lisa Chaney, ?Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life? (New York: Viking, 2011), xi-xiv.
Seemed to consume her all throughout her life. These insecurities are perhaps what drove her to voraciously conceal her past in lies, what caused her to be adamantly against those who were disadvantaged just as she was in her early life. Being a naturally combative and stubborn character, who, despite all the odds prevailed with her fiery personality and wit, it is regrettable that she did not create something for women (as much as she claimed to) aside than a way of protecting herself with a dishonest and superficial image.