1883-1971

I think I read everything about Coco Chanel. I know this name since I was child before admiring the classic handbags, and then dreaming in front of perfume ads on the TV.

One name, Jacqueline Kennedy: the rose pink Chanel suit she was wearing as she cradled the head of her husband, President Jack Kennedy, as he lay dying after being shot in Dallas in 1963.

Coco Chanel can be considered the ultimate in Parisian haute couture. She was a woman. A woman who created some of the most exquisite and expensive garments and accessories worn.

But she is not just a name on a dress, she has created much more. She made possible wear clothes more comfortable, sporty or made from soft, easy-care fabrics. Thanks to Chanel we can go shopping with a sweat suit and oversized T-shirt. 

And then there is the little black dress. Once she said: ‘I imposed black. It’s still strong today, for black wipes out everything comes around’. 

Thanks to her, every woman knows that black hides a multitude of sins as it skims the figure and slims down. 

But it was the trousers that scandalized the world when she introduced them in 1920s as leisure wear as she relaxed on the Riviera or a little later, when she joined the English aristocracy, including Winston Churchill, for the countryside pursuits.

And jersey as material? Oh dear! Weren’t women supposed to wear silk and satins? But thanks to Chanel, easy-to-wear comfort went hand in hand with chic.

In a photograph taken in 1930, she’s sporting a short, lick haircut and wearing loose, soft trousers, a striped sailor’s Breton shirt and a buckled belt, her hands tucked into pockets at the front of her trousers. It could be a picture of many young woman today. As Chanel said herself, ‘Fashion passes, style remains.’

To summarize I gathered Chanel’s symbols in this way:

  • the interlocked double Cs
  • the restrained aesthetic for black

Everything seems coming from the ancient world of Aubazine in the rural French region of Corèze, from the remote convent Cistercian abbey where Chanel had lived with two sisters in the wake of her mother’s death and father’s disappearance. 

Where the interlocked Cs come from

Inside theabbey were stained-glass windows with a stylized design that seemed to reflect – or prefigure – Chanel’s logo.

Where the restrained aesthetic for black

The nuns themselves still wore black habits with white cuffs and collars – again reminiscent of Chanel’s aesthetic monochrome palette – and their rosaries looked unexpectedly similar to her pearl necklaces and crucifixes.

*Photo: Cordon Press

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