Joyeux anniversaire Coco Chanel!
Today is the 19th August, Coco Chanel's birthday. So what better way to celebrate this inspiring woman than to write about her, not only as one of the greatest French fashion
designers but also as a trail blazer and entrepreneur?
Coco Chanel was a huge presence in fashion when I was growing up in France. She was often mentioned and her designs were everywhere I looked. French ladies, inspired by her classic style, adopted her look and dressed ‘à la Chanel’. I regularly saw chic and elegant women dressed in tweed skirt suits or simple black dresses. Their hair was put up in a chignon or cut in a bob. They oozed grace and that little ‘je ne sais quoi’ that French women are renowned for. Their shoes, usually black or navy, looked comfortable, yet so refined. Pearl jewellery, be it earrings, strands or bracelets, was ‘de rigueur'. This classic look showcased their great sense of style over their desire for fashion.
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel is indeed an inspiration, not only as a fashion designer, but also as a trail blazer and entrepreneur.
Starting from humble beginnings, she helped to change women’s silhouettes at the turn of the 20th century. This was no mean feat. By any standards, she was a real ‘tour de force’ at a time when women were mainly seen as decorative. At the end of the 1800s, women were heavily corseted to give them the desired figure of that era. The feminine look then consisted of exaggerating a woman’s attributes with much decoration. The breasts were pushed up, ribs and waists squeezed in, and bottoms given extra padding with ample under-skirts. Women had difficulty breathing, eating and moving around freely. The constraints on women of the times were reflected in women’s fashion generally.
Coco Chanel bemoaned that corsetry was too much of a hindrance. Deciding to do something about it, she succeeded in helping to free women from the physical shackles of their clothing. She believed in freedom of movement for women, something which we now take for granted. Her early designs excluded the constrictive corsets, changing silhouettes and attitudes in the process. She introduced squarer, more masculine, lines and contours. She favoured simplicity over highly decorated pieces. Women clamoured to be dressed by her and so ‘La Maison Chanel’ was born. The 200 Chanel boutiques we now have worldwide are a testament to her entrepreneurial spirit.
Mademoiselle Chanel understood the difference between fashion and style: in her own words, “Fashion changes but style endures”. She knew that, once you discover your own style and what suits you, you will always be well dressed, no matter what the fashion of the day happens to be. Her now famous saying is validated by her own designs. Her legacy is with us still today, in the little black dress, her skirt suits and the little black jacket. They have all endured the test of time and are truly classic, in their ability to be worn by all ages, shapes and sizes. Decades after leaving the drawing board, they are still worn by elegant ladies everywhere. Indeed, fashion changed but Chanel style endured.
Coco Chanel inspired stylish women while she was alive. She continues to do so, decades after her death. Long may the memory of her continue.
Image via www.myself.de
“Fashion changes, but style endures.”
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