Most know the scent No.5. Everyone recognizes the name Chanel.
Born in Saumur, France; Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was born to an underprivileged family in the Loire Valley. Because of her humble beginnings, she was inspired to pursue a radically different lifestyle, first on the stage, where she acquired the nickname “Coco,” in later years she was a milliner.
With the help of one of her male admirers, who provided financial assistance and social connections throughout her career, in 1913 Chanel was able to open her first shop in Paris. Soon after, Coco was able to open a second shop in the resort town of Deauville. With limited finances at her disposal, Chanel used jersey as her main fabric. Before Chanel, Jersey was used as the primary fabric for men’s undergarments. For the first few seasons, the Chanel line was limited to exquisite hats and a select line of garments, attracting dedicated patrons.
Her style was simple, yet elegant. And jersey was the perfect fabric to compliment her bravura. Inspired by the the world around her, Chanel created uncluttered outfits, with boxy lines and shortened skirts. During the First World War, the Chanel line allowed women to leave their corsets behind and freed them for the hands-on activities necessary to support the war effort. Soon after, she repositioned her couture house in Paris to 31 Rue Cambon, still the center of operations for the House of Chanel today. Chanel continued to create tasteful looks for women throughout the 1920s and ’30s.
The Chanel suit became a status symbol for a new generation, made of solid or tweed fabric, with its slim skirt and collarless jacket trimmed in braid, gold buttons, patch pockets, and—sewn into the hem—a gold-colored chain ensuring it hung properly from the shoulders. Following Chanel’s death in 1971, her assistants continued to design the couture and ready-to-wear lines until Karl Lagerfeld took over control of the haute couture design in 1983 and in 1984, he started to design the ready-to-wear line.
Possibly Chanel’s greatest contribution to fashion is the iconic fragrance, Chanel No.5. In 1921, Chanel set out on a quest to revolutionize fragrances, and create a scent that embodied the modern woman. Her quest began after the summer of 1920. While on vacation with her then beau, the Grand Duke Dimtri Pavlovich, Chanel learned of an ornate, daring perfumer named Ernest Beaux. Beaux was a skilled craftsman, who was willing to tackle the challenge of creating Chanel’s signature fragrance. After months of toiling, Ernest returned to Paris to present Chanel 10 sample fragrances. Numbered 1-5 and 20-24, Chanel was given the easy task of picking her favorite.
She picked No. 5.
Chanel later described the scent as what she “was waiting for. A perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.”