The Life and Times of Coco Chanel
There have been many women of great influence throughout the years, but in the world of fashion there was one above all the rest: Coco Chanel. After years of triumphs and failures, she gracefully stated, Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve. Gabrielle Coco Chanel was a great woman of her time, from her humble beginnings to becoming the most influential designer of her time, she incorporated good looks and comfort for women of the 1920’s and formed a strong capital investment for herself even after her death.
Born into a destitute Auvergnate family August 19, 1883, Gabrielle Chanel was destined to be a notable face in the French and global fashion scene. She was given the very fitting middle name of Bonheur, meaning happiness, by a nun in the convent hospital where she was delivered. The young Gabrielle enjoyed being in the company of friends and was always filled with stories, although they were often falsities (Current Biography 1). But there was one story that proved her intent to participate in fashion, and that was the habitual action of cutting up the curtains in the living room to make dresses for her dolls (1). What a magnificent way to prepare for a life of style.
In February, 1895, Chanels mother, Jeanne, was found dead, presumably because of her constant pregnancies (Chanel, A Woman of Her Own 9); her father, Albert, left for good, abandoning Gabrielle and her four siblings. They were placed into an orphanage in Aubazine. The three Chanel girls, Julie, Antoinette, and Gabrielle, remained at the orphanage for the next six years while the two boys, Alphonse and Lucien, became unpaid child laborers at their young age of eight. (10)
In 1900, Gabrielle left the orphanage at eighteen with her sister, Julie, and they were placed in an institution at Moulins by their grandmother (19). Antoinette would join them the next year. While in Moulins, she got her first taste of designing by working, with her sisters, in a tailoring shop on Sundays. The Chanel girls, known as the Three Graces (25), received a good amount of attention from the army lieutenants who often came into the tailor shop to be graced by their company. This is how Chanel met her first love and her first chance at fame.
The mans name was Etienne Balsan. Not only was he her first romantic interlude, but he introduced her into a new world: one of riches and what would soon be fame. Although she seemed destined to be a fashion designer, Gabrielle Chanel had always aspired to be a singer despite her less than perfect voice. She sang in bars around Moulins known as caf-concerts (29). She gained the nickname of Coco because of her rendition of a popular song about a
young Parisian lady who lost her dog at the Trocadro amusement park across from the Eiffel Tower, the dogs name being Coco. But it was at one of the caf concs that Etienne and Gabrielle met, and they were instantly attracted to everything about one another, especially their adoration of the equestrian sport (29). Soon he would provide the foundation for her rise to the top.
The hustle and bustle of social life in Moulins soon became too overwhelming for Chanel. She had to get out and her escape was provided by Monsieur Balsan. He generously offered her his ground floor flat which she changed into a studio (Chanel 6). She had already produced her first pieces which her friends were so dutifully wearing, but she was often mocked for her extensive use of pearls or her stylish schoolgirl dresses. The world was changing, however, and Coco was on the right track.
When she moved to 21 rue Cambon in Paris, 1910, the world was ready for her. Her self-titled boutique was an instant hit. Crowds flocked to it, soon giving Chanel the capital successes to take over numbers 27, 29, and 31 on the rue Cambon (6). She was now living her life in the lap of luxury, a