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Monday, September 19, 2011

French Fashion Designer--"The Most Important People of the Century"


Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971) was a pioneering French fashion designer whose modernist thought, menswear-inspired fashions, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her an important figure in 20th-century fashion. She was the founder of one of the most famous fashion brands, Chanel. Her extraordinary influence on fashion was such that she was the only person in the couturier field to be named on Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.

Chanel was born in Saumur, France. She was the second daughter of Albert Chanel and Jeanne Devolle, a market stallholder and laundrywoman respectively at the time of her birth. Her birth was declared by employees of the hospital in which she was born. They, being illiterate, could not provide or confirm the correct spelling of the surname and it was recorded by the mayor François Poitou as "Chasnel".This misspelling made the tracing of her roots almost impossible for biographers when Chanel later rose to prominence.

Her parents married in 1883. She had five siblings: two sisters, Julie (1882–1913) and Antoinette (born 1887) and three brothers, Alphonse (born 1885), Lucien (born 1889) and Augustin (born and died 1891). In 1895, when she was 12 years old, Chanel's mother died of tuberculosis and her father left the family. Because of this, the young Chanel spent six years in the orphanage of the Roman Catholic monastery of Aubazine, where she learned the trade of a seamstress. School vacations were spent with relatives in the provincial capital, where female relatives taught her to sew with more flourish than the nuns at the monastery were able to demonstrate.
 
When Coco turned eighteen, she was obliged to leave the orphanage, and affiliated with the circus of Moulins as a cabaret singer. During this time, Chanel performed in bars in Vichy and Moulins where she was called "Coco." Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a "shortened version of coquette, the French word for 'kept woman'," according to an article in The Atlantic.

In 1924, Chanel made an agreement with the Wertheimer brothers, Pierre and Paul, directors of the eminent perfume house Bourgeois since 1917, creating a corporate entity, "Parfums Chanel." The Wertheimers agreed to provide full financing for production, marketing and distribution of Chanel No. 5. For ten percent of the stock, Chanel licensed her name to "Parfums Chanel" and removed herself from involvement in all business operations.Displeased with the arrangement, Chanel worked for more than twenty years to gain full control of "Parfums Chanel." She proclaimed that Pierre Wertheimer was “the bandit who screwed me.”

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops. She believed that it was not a time for fashion. During the German occupation Chanel resided at the Hotel Ritz, which was also noteworthy for being the preferred place of residence for upper echelon German military staff. She also maintained an apartment above her couture house at 31 rue Cambon. During that time she was criticized for having an affair with Hans Günther von Dincklage, a German military intelligence officer who arranged for her to remain in the hotel.Chanel was herself a Nazi intelligence operative, Abwehr Agent 7124, code name “Westminster.”

In 1945, she moved to Switzerland, eventually returning to Paris in 1954, the same year she returned to the fashion world.The re-establishment of her couture house in 1954 was fully financed by Chanel’s old nemesis in the perfume battle, Pierre Wertheimer. This new contractual agreement would also allow Wertheimer to maintain ownership of “Parfums Chanel.” In return, Wertheimer agreed to an unusual arrangement proposed by Chanel herself, attempting to revive her youthful years as the kept woman of wealthy men. Wertheimer would pay for all of Chanel’s expenses from the large to the trivial for as long as she lived.

In early 1971 Chanel, then eighty-seven years old, was tired and ailing but continued to adhere to her usual schedule, overseeing the preparation of the spring collection. She died on Sunday 10 January, at the Hotel Ritz where she had resided for more than thirty years. She had gone for a long drive that afternoon and, not feeling well, had retired early to bed.

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