Known the world over as the revolutionist of women’s fashion, Coco Chanel continues to live through the clothes many women wear, even 44 years after her death.
Elite Chanel, an illegitimate child of a shop girl and a poor peddler, lived most of her childhood as a lonely child in a convent. While her mother died, her father abandoned her and she was left to fend for herself. She grew up learning sewing at the convent, from where she started developing an interest in apparel.
Once she was independent of the convent, she met a rich young man – Etienne Balsan – who took her as his mistress. While he tended to his other mistresses, Chanel found occupation in making ‘simple, elegant’ hats which were nowhere close to the adorned cocktail hats that rich women wore those days.
She despised the fashion, calling it constrictive and uncomfortable, and wanted to break the mould. Ironically, the rich mistresses of her then lover began to patronise her fashion, and paid her heavily for her creations. She decided to expand her customer base, with the help of her new lover, Arthur Chapel, who financed the opening of two boutiques for her as a gift.
The turning point in the history of fashion
Chanel harboured a love for clothing that brought freedom to the body, and thus had an inclination for menswear. Thus, she often borrowed clothes from Chapel’s wardrobe and wore them. Once, on a chilly winter day with desire to wear something different, Chanel fished out a wool jersey from her lover and fashioned it into her dress. On realising how wonderfully the dress was being received, she started working on dresses using this simple, inexpensive material.
Chanel realised that war times had women working jobs that demanded physical efforts. She thus introduced jersey suits, women’s pants and comfortable underwear for the first time ever. As wealthy women thronged her boutiques for comfortable fashion, she started to earn handsomely and became financially independent within 6 years of the shops’ opening. She returned Chapel the money he had given her to start her business. She was even able to hire 300 employees to help with the operations of her business!
As Gandhi rightly said – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Chanel sets an example by recognising how fashion needed a breather, and actually worked towards its liberation.
Hard work always pays off. Chanel turned her life around by identifying her passion, working hard at expanding her empire, targeting the right clienteleand maintaining originality.
~ Atrija Gaur